As the Oregon football team steps on the field Jan. 2 vs. Iowa State in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl, two familiar foes will meet on opposing sides of the field: Ducks coach Mario Cristobal and Cyclones coach Matt Campbell.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane.
After a tumultuous first few years at FIU, Cristobal, then head coach of the Golden Panthers, found his team at 7-6 (6-2 Sun Belt) after an 0-4 start, and headed to the first bowl game in school history.
They’d face Toledo (8-4) in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl and Campbell was the offensive coordinator.
“That was a classic. I remember it was the first bowl game in the history of FIU,” Cristobal recalled of that game in his media availability Sunday. “It was a very competitive game. We had so much respect for them. They were so explosive on offense. They were lighting it up when it came to 4th and 17 that we had to convert. I don’t remember specifically around 4th and 17, hook and ladder and a field goal as time ran out.”
It was high energy game between the two teams, but things really heated up in the third quarter. Trailing 24-7, FIU’s T.Y. Hilton had an 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, followed by a Darriet Perry 7-yard touchdown run, and then Wesley Carroll found the future NFL pro Hilton for another 10-yard score to take the lead 28-24.
Jack Griffin kicked in a 31-yarder to extend the Golden Panthers lead to 31-24, but Campbell’s Toledo still had fight left in them. With 1:14 left in the game, Terrance Owens kept the ball himself for a 14-yard touchdown run. The Rockets went for the two-point conversion and reclaimed the 32-31 lead.
FIU took back over near midfield before Hilton's hard-earned first down coming off a hook and lateral on 4th-and-17 set up the game-winning 34-yard field goal from Jack Griffin. The clock expired and the Panthers had sealed the victory.
In only his fourth year at FIU, Cristobal led his team to a Sun Belt championship and Little Caesar’s Bowl victory.
After watching Cambell flourish at Toledo, Bowling Green and now Iowa State, Cristobal’s respect for the 41-year-old coach has only mounted over the years.
“When you fast forward and you look at Coach Campbell and his career, there’s a bunch of things that really stand out,” Cristobal said. “A deeper dive you take into it, the more respect you have for the level of culture and the standards that they are upheld to with their program and just the constant commitment to physicality, execution, a lot of the principles that we implement in our program.”
While it’s been over 10 years since the two coaches faced off, Cristobal’s memories of that historic day in Detroit, Michigan are still fresh.
As his No. 25 Ducks prepare to face No. 10 Iowa State at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. on the second day of January, Cristobal hopes to lean on his experience and memories in guiding Oregon to victory.
“I remember a lot from back then,” Cristobal said. “Certainly have watched as much as I can up until now and this press conference. So just a tremendous amount of respect for what they are, what they represent, and looking forward to a tremendous challenge.”