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Special memories of a special game

I’m a kid who grew up in Corvallis and rooted for the Ducks. And I was a college student who attended Oregon State after first enrolling at Oregon. So it was always with mixed emotions that I watched Civil War games.

Usually, I wanted the team with more to gain to win.

So even though Oregon went to the Rose Bowl after the 1994 Civil War, and to the national championship after the 2010 Civil War, my favorite in the 117-game series is the game played in 1991.

“Magic,’’ said Jerry Pettibone, the coach of Oregon State that day.

It was Oregon State 14, Oregon 3. At Autzen Stadium. For Oregon State’s only victory of the season.

It’s not so much the upset that resonates.

It’s this lasting vision: the Oregon State seniors being carried off the field by underclassmen.

And the fact that it was a premeditated, and practiced exit strategy by Pettibone.

The gall, and the foresight, to practice such a thing — and then to watch it happen — adds to the great theater of rivalries like this. It was 23 years ago and I’m sure we will be talking about it 23 years later.

I still say it is among the gutsiest and brash moments of the Civil War, considering the Beavers were 0-10 and coming off a 58-6 loss to Washington.

But it turns out, it was more than just happenstance. The victory was weeks in the making.

“We had not won a game, and although we were getting beat, we were getting better,’’ Pettibone remembered. “I could see us improving. And from the middle of the season on, I decided we were going to concentrate on the Civil War.’’

For the last five weeks of the season, Pettibone carved out 10 minutes of two-or-three practices every week.

“We called them Duck Periods,’’ Pettibone said. “We would practice and prepare for Oregon for 10 minutes.’’

It was, in part, a mental ploy by the first-year Beavers coach. He wanted his team to believe it was the more prepared team by the time the Civil War arrived.

“I told them, ‘Men, we are going to take a little bit of time each practice leading up to the game and it’s going to add up to the margin of victory,’’’ Pettibone recalled saying.

Then, the week of the Civil War, Pettibone broke tradition: He bused the team to Eugene the day before the game and practiced in Autzen Stadium.

“No Oregon State coach had ever taken the Beavers to Eugene on a Friday,’’ Pettibone said.

There was a reason for the tactic. Pettibone had read a book on Lou Holtz, and remembered a story when the Notre Dame coach had underclassmen carry seniors off after an important game.

Pettibone decided he would have the Beavers carry the seniors off if they could be Oregon, which was entering the game 3-7 and losers of five consecutive games.

After the practice, with his team huddled around him in the end zone, Pettibone delivered the details of his plan: Two underclassmen to every senior. But he didn’t just relay the plan, he wanted to practice it.

With a blend of amazement and confusion, the seniors obeyed Pettibone’s orders to line up on the goal line. The rest of the team went to the 20. The underclassmen were assigned their seniors. Then told to find him and practice hoisting him on their shoulders and carrying them off.

“Those kids went absolutely bananas,’’ Pettibone recalled. “They were so fired up.’’

Led by quarterback Ian Shields, who played with a broken toe, and the straight-up-the-middle running of Chad Paulson, the Beavers won 14-3, ending an 18-game losing streak in Autzen.

The seniors got their elevated escort off the field.

“For it to happen? Boy ... for that to happen ... just magic,’’ Pettibone said. “For us to win that game, being our only victory, and for it to be against the U of O, in Autzen ... just a magic moment. A special moment.’’

Pettibone still remembers the sight of linebacker Todd Sahlfeld on top of teammates’ shoulders.

“One of the greatest captains we’ve ever had,’’ Pettibone said. “That kid sold out on every play. He loved Oregon State, and that meant so much to him to win that game.’’

Of course, not everyone was a fan of Pettibone’s premeditated celebration.

After the Ducks beat Oregon State 7-0 then next season in monsoon-like conditions at Parker Stadium, Oregon coach Rich Brooks instructed his seniors to be carried off, just like the Beavers did the year before.

“Ol’ Rich Brooks was so ticked off that the next year that I’m sure he was saying ‘Touche Pettibone!’ by having his seniors taken off,’’ Pettibone said with a chuckle. “He didn’t like it.’’