EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Darron Thomas passed for three touchdowns and ran for another and top-ranked Oregon earned at least a share of a second consecutive Pac-10 title with a 48-29 victory over No. 20 Arizona on Friday night.
LaMichael James shrugged off talk of an injury to run for 126 yards and two scores for the Ducks (11-0, 8-0), who trailed 19-14 at halftime but surged in the second half to stay on course for a trip to the BCS national title game.
The Ducks can lock up an outright conference title and a spot in the national championship game in Glendale, Ariz., next week with a victory at Oregon State.
It was the third straight loss for Arizona (7-4, 4-4), which ultimately couldn’t keep up with the Ducks’ speedy spread-option.
With temperatures in the mid-40s and periodic rain showers, there were concerns that the Wildcats would have trouble with their passing game, which had been averaging about 300 yards a game.
But Nick Foles passed for a career-high 448 yards and three touchdowns, including an 85-yard score to Juron Criner.
Thomas completed 14 of 24 passes for 148 yards and an interception. Oregon finished with 537 yards total offense, but Arizona kept up with 506 yards.
Oregon was playing catch-up the entire first half and trailed for just the second time this season at the break.
But the Ducks bounced back early in the second half with Josh Huff’s 85-yard scoring run, the longest play from scrimmage for the Ducks this season. While the conversion failed, Oregon had a 20-19 lead.
Arizona hurt itself on Oregon’s next series, when they were called offside on Rob Beard’s missed 42-yard field goal attempt. That gave the Ducks a first down and Thomas followed with a 20-yard touchdown run to make it 27-19.
The Wildcats cut the lead on Alex Zendejas’ 41-yard field goal, but James ran for a pair of scores, one for 13 yards and another for a yard, to make it 48-22.
James has 19 rushing touchdowns this season, surpassing LeGarrette Blount’s score record 17 set in 2008.
James came into the game as the nation’s rushing leader at 158 yards per game, but there were concerns about his health. After Oregon’s last game, a 15-13 win over California, the Heisman Trophy hopeful was on crutches with a leg injury. He was able to rest the injury over a bye week and practiced on a limited basis.
He quickly showed he was fine by busting for a 38-yard run on Oregon’s first series. With the run, the sophomore became just the second Ducks player in history to run for 3,000 career yards.
James went down late in the first half after he was hit by Arizona safety Adam Hall. While he was helped off the field, he stayed on the sidelines until the break, then earned rousing applause when he returned from halftime hopping across the field with his helmet on.
The Wildcats struck first, capitalizing on Hall’s interception of Thomas, which led to Foles’ 8-yard touchdown pass to Criner.
Oregon answered quickly with Thomas’ 38-yard scoring pass to David Paulson, a drive that took just 1:35. But the Autzen Stadium crowd was stunned just seconds later when Foles hit Criner with an 85-yard touchdown reception.
Thomas tied it again with a 6-yard pass to Jeff Maehl in the back of the end zone.
Oregon botched a punt snap, sailing it out of the end zone for an Arizona safety, making it 16-14. The Wildcats added a 29-yard field goal to take the lead into halftime. Oregon coach Chip Kelly took a pair of time-outs before the attempt, prompting kicker Alex Zendejas to shake a finger at Oregon’s sideline before he made it.
Arizona was without receiver Bug Wright, suspended indefinitely this week for violating team rules.
Last season Arizona fans readied to rush the field but Oregon scored with 6 seconds left, sending the game into overtime. The Ducks went on to win it 44-41 in double OT, spoiling Arizona’s chance for its first Rose Bowl bid.
Oregon went to Pasadena, Calif., instead, but this season that would be a consolation prize for the Ducks. They have already beaten second-place Stanford, so even if they lose the Civil War game to Oregon State, and fall into a tie for first in the Pac-10, they’ll go to the Rose Bowl.
Beat the Beavers and the Ducks will play for their first national championship.