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Arizona upsets Oregon for second year in a row

EUGENE, Ore. -- Around the time Oregon ran its "Exceptional Play" promo on the JumboTron with just less than a minute left in the fourth quarter, Arizona was taking a knee for its 31-24 win over the No. 2 Ducks in Autzen Stadium.

It was a rather unexceptional play on the field for an exceptional upset on the road for Rich Rodriguez and his now 5-0 team. The situation is different, but it's the same result the Wildcats served the Ducks a year ago this month.

And as the video screen highlighted a second-quarter touchdown pass from Oregon running back Royce Freeman to quarterback Marcus Mariota, the field highlighted the other team's quarterback and running backs -- Anu Solomon, Terris Grigsby-Jones and Nick Wilson.

And throw away the questionable calls -- they happened on both sides, and no matter which team came out on top of this, the other team was going to feel cheated by the referees -- because the game was Oregon's to win.

It was Oregon's to win with three minutes left when Mariota hit Dwayne Stanford with back-to-back passes that led to first downs. It was Oregon's to win when Rodriguez called the timeout with 2:20 remaining. It was Oregon's to win when Mariota took the snap, at first-and-10 on the 34-yard line.

This was supposed to be Mariota's Heisman moment and the gut-check evaluation for a team that everyone had as a probable lock in the inaugural College Football Playoff. But then Mariota was sacked and the ball was stripped by Arizona's Scooby Wright.

Suddenly, it was no longer Oregon's game to win. It was Arizona's game to lose.

Though they had displayed lapses in discipline throughout the game, in those final six plays, the Wildcats held on and gave the country the biggest upset in college football so far this season.

Last October, the Wildcats put the nail in Oregon's coffin. But Thursday, they put the first strike to the Ducks' name.

When Mariota walked into the news conference after the game, it was clear he knew this was a big loss. A single hash in the loss column now could be reason enough to be on the wrong side of the group of four.

"It doesn't feel good," he said of the game. "We left a lot of points on the board, a lot of plays on the board. It's football."

Yes, it was football. But it was supposed to be different football this year for the Ducks, right?

It was supposed to be a stronger defense, a more consistent offense. It was supposed to be Mariota who led the Ducks to the college football glory land. They've never won a national title and -- for everything they have to claim to their name -- this was the year. It was supposed to be a more mature team that learned from this loss a year ago and learned from the Stanford loss, too.

Now, it seems all the same.

"In the locker room, it's positive," Mariota said in a monotone voice. He had a blank stare on his face and a furrowed brow, and he bit his lip from time to time.

Mariota has been in this position before.

Last year, after the Ducks lost 42-16 in Tucson, Mariota sat at a different podium but felt the same way.

"It hurts," he said then. "I haven't been blown out like this in my life."

It took the Ducks out of the national title hunt and would eventually eclipse them from a BCS bowl game. For Arizona, it was its first ranked win of the season. It was its high point -- even though the Wildcats would go on to play in a bowl game. That win was everything.

On Thursday night? It was their fifth win of the season. It was the perfect record. You know, the one Oregon was supposed to have Friday morning.

It was a shot of energy in a team that is showing it can, in fact, contend in the Pac-12. It was the pride in knowing the team outgained the conference's Chosen One in rushing yards (208-144), first downs (29-25) and third-down conversions (53 percent-29 percent). And that the Wildcats did it on the road, where not even Michigan State -- the hope of the Big Ten -- could finish.

There are 13 teams left in the Top 25 with perfect records. The committee will notice that. How much? It's hard to say.

How will this Oregon team rebound from this loss as it prepares to play at UCLA next weekend? It's hard to say. How will this finish for Oregon? It's hard to say.

There are a lot of questions swirling around the Oregon football program right now.

But one thing is for sure.

Oregon's play Thursday night? It was far from exceptional.