Even after all the turnovers and missed scoring opportunities, senior quarterback Kevin Hogan had Stanford in position to force overtime with time running out. It didn't happen and the seventh-ranked Cardinal had its chance, slim as it was, at a national championship come to an end.
Oregon beat Stanford, 38-36, Saturday to remain in the hunt for the North Division title and a berth in the Pac-12 Conference title game. The Ducks, at full strength, are as good as any team on Stanford's schedule and they were clicking on Saturday.
The Cardinal (8-2 overall, 7-1 overall) still has the business of clinching the division crown when California comes to town for the Big Game next Saturday. A slip up against the Golden Bears and things aren't so rosy.
"Any time you lose, it stings . . . it's tough," Palo Alto grad and Stanford linebacker Kevin Anderson said. "But if you told me at the beginning of the season, you would have a chance to beat Cal to win the Pac-12 North, play in the Pac-12 championship and potentially go to the Rose Bowl, I would say that's awesome. So, we need a bit of perspective here. But it definitely stings right now."
Fumbles on consecutive drives in the fourth quarter proved too much to overcome in the end. Oregon's dynamic offense, capable of scoring on any given play, used a field goal after the first fumble to force the Cardinal into a two-point conversion try, if it came to that.
"What happens in tight games like this, you can't give up big plays, you can't turn the ball over, and can't miss opportunities," Stanford's Director of Football David Shaw said. "And that's what happened to us."
After Oregon recovered the second fumble, all it needed to do was make one first down to seal the win.
Stanford had other plans. Kodi Whitfield sacked Oregon QB Vernon Adams on a third-down play and the Ducks called time.
Hogan drove the Cardinal 49 yards, helped by an Oregon pass interference call, for a touchdown that put Stanford on the brink of an unlikely comeback. Hogan and Greg Taboada hooked up for a pair of touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, the last with 10 seconds remaining to play.
The two-point try failed and Oregon recovered the onside kick to clinch it.
"We made big plays, but we gave up too many big plays," Shaw said. "We gave them way too much, but the fight was always there. We fought like crazy, but we didn't fight very smart."
Three apparent Stanford first downs were negated by penalties, and the Cardinal kept an Oregon drive alive because of a hit out of bounds after a third-down stop.
Oregon scored on a 49-yard pass from Adams to Taj Griffin on the next play, giving the Ducks a 35-23 lead.
Hogan threw for 304 yards on 28-of-37 passing. Christian McCaffrey rushed for 147 yards and caught five passes for another 42. Michael Rector caught eight passes for 103 yards.
McCaffrey set two school records as his 2,418 all-purpose yards this season broke Glyn Milburn's 1992 mark of 2,234. McCaffrey's eighth consecutive 100-yard rushing performance eclipsed Toby Gerhart's 2009 record of seven.
Stanford out-gained the Ducks, 506-436, and Anderson intercepted a pass and nearly scored, bringing it to the Ducks' 9. The Cardinal settled for a field goal.
Turnovers and costly penalties proved the difference. Stanford was called for seven penalties worth 55 yards to the Ducks.