EUGENE, Ore. — LeGarrette Blount's last game for Oregon ended with a punch. His latest ended with roses.
Blount and No. 7 Oregon rebounded from that ugly start in Boise to win the Pac-10 and return to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1994 season.
The once-disgraced running back ran for a 12-yard touchdown and the Ducks defeated Oregon State 37-33 in the Civil War on Thursday night to earn a trip to Pasadena on New Year's Day.
After the game, Blount was mobbed by fans chanting his name. Smiling, he grasped a few red roses that had been thrust his way.
The victory capped a stunning turnaround for the Ducks after their dispiriting 19-8 loss in the opener at Boise State on national television. In the aftermath, Blount punched defensive end Byron Hout.
Blount was suspended for the season the next day and Oregon moved on without him. The Ducks won the rest of the way except for 51-42 stumble at Stanford, and Blount was eventually reinstated. His first appearance of the season came in the Civil War.
“I've been waiting for a long time to get back in there. Everything that I've worked for has finally paid off,” he said.
LaMichael James ran for 166 yards and three touchdowns for Oregon (10-2, 8-1) which formally ended USC's seven-season reign atop the league. It was Oregon's first Pac-10 title since 2001, when they went to the Fiesta Bowl. The Ducks will face Ohio State.
“That team battled through a lot, but they never doubted themselves,” first-year coach Chip Kelly said. “They are a great group to be around. They know how to fight and fight back and they are a great group to be around.”
Oregon State (8-4, 6-3) was vying for its first Rose Bowl berth since the 1964 season. The Beavers will have to wait until the rest of the Pac-10 wraps up the season to find out which bowl they will play in.
It was the first time the annual rivalry was a winner-takes-all path to Pasadena.
Sean Canfield threw for 306 yards and two touchdowns for the Beavers. Jacquizz Rodgers, the Pac-10's second-leading rusher behind Stanford's Toby Gerhart with an average of 119.4 yards a game, rushed for just 64 yards and a score.
Oregon State had a chance to take the lead late in the fourth but Canfield threw an incomplete pass on fourth-and-15 from the Oregon 28.
“We were all confident with the call,” Canfield said. “It as a great call. We have a lot of playmakers on offense and I thought it was the right decision. We just couldn't get it done.”
Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli took over with more than 6 minutes left and ran out the clock with an impressive drive that featured two fourth-down conversions. He absorbed a hit during a 6-yard scramble on fourth-and-3 and pitched it to Kenjon Barner to set up a 4-yard run on fourth-and-2 that allowed the Ducks to finish it off.
It was a disappointing end for Oregon State, which hung tough for much of the night behind Canfield, Rodgers and his older brother, James.
“It's never easy to come, fight hard, you put yourself in the position you've worked for all season and you let it slip through your fingers,” linebacker Keith Pankey said. “It hurts.”
Blount missed eight games while he was suspended. Kelly reinstated him in mid-November after meeting certain academic and behavior conditions, but his number never got called until Thursday night.
“He did give us a spark and it wasn't planned. We made him do a lot and he did it. He wasn't handed anything. I am a believer that you define yourself everyday and he needs to continue to work hard.”
Blount's 12-yard score came midway through the third quarter. He finished with 51 yards rushing on nine carries.
Afterward he spoke briefly about his ordeal — his first public comments since he apologized immediately following the punch.
“I was wrong for what I did,” he said as he navigated a throng of fans. “I never expected to be back with this team. I just expected I'd practice and do what I did.”
Blount ran for 1,002 yards last season. After his suspension, James stepped into his place, rushing for a Pac-10 record 1,476 yards this season.
Last season Oregon State would have headed to the Rose Bowl with a victory in the Civil War. But the Ducks came to Reser Stadium and romped to a 65-38 victory. The year before, the Beavers visited Autzen and won 38-31 in the second overtime.
“It's tough to swallow,” Canfield said of missing out on a trip to Pasadena for the second straight season. “I said earlier it was such a great football environment, everything I thought it would be. I'm just disappointed.”