SEATTLE- The Oregon Ducks beat their rival Washington in comeback fashion, essentially punched their ticket to the Pac-12 Conference title game and kept a glimmer of College Football Playoff hopes alive.
After overcoming the largest second-half deficit since 2008 at Purdue and improving to 4-0 in Pac-12 play, the Ducks had a lot to celebrate.
However, one part of Oregon’s joyous celebration was not like the others.
Oregon Coach Mario Cristobal fist pumped, threw up the “O” and high-fived brave Ducks fans after the 35-31 victory, with a smile beaming from his face. The team sang the Oregon fight song along with the band, hugging and dancing. Freshman Mycah Pittman jumped up and down with palpable energy after scoring his first Duck touchdown. Senior Troy Dye, with a cast on his broken thumb, gave a television interview that he ended with a hand gesture of the “W” going down. Senior quarterback Justin Herbert happily walked off the field for the final time against UW after calmly leading the team to the win and extending his nation-leading streak to 35 straight games with a touchdown pass.
Then there was senior linebacker La’Mar Winston Jr.
The Portland, Oregon-native huddled together a group of freshman defensive tackles in a passionate display of leadership. Under the screaming fans and celebrating teammates, Winston Jr.’s words were loud and clear.
“I want you to remember this moment,” Winston Jr. said. “When I leave, when everyone leaves. You have to make sure that everyone stays hungry.”
He looked them each in the eye and said a few more words before hugging them. Then jumped over the railing and into the crowd of fans that embraced him.
“I love La’Mar to death, that’s my brother for life,” Dye said of his teammate. “To see him step up like that and bring all those young guys around him and really coach them up, is big-time for our defense. The older guys working with the younger guys trickles down and creates a great future for this team.”
Winston Jr. totaled one tackle against Washington but his impact reaches farther than the stat line and will continue long after he graduates. His leadership has helped the Duck defense dominate this season to lead the Pac-12.
“La’Mar has poured his heart and soul into this,” Cristobal said. “When you do that and overcome a 14-point deficit on the road, when things were looking a little bit shaky… Hard work done the right way, it pays off. It paid off today.”
Cristobal continued to name Winston Jr. as someone he hopes his sons might be like when they grow up.
The Ducks got a significant win on a rainy, gray, quintessential Pacific Northwest day. Vivid red, gold, green, purple and orange trees surrounding Husky stadium. Inside, the Ducks and Huskies battled in an instant classic. However, the most striking impression was a senior passing along advice in a teachable moment that could reap benefits for seasons to come.