Keenan Howry's sliding catch of a 10-yard pass from Joey Harrington with 1 minute 32 seconds remaining lifted Oregon over No. 12 Minnesota, 24-20, tonight in the Sun Bowl.
His dramatic catch capped an 87-yard drive that gave the unranked Ducks (9-3) their sixth straight victory and denied the Golden Gophers (8-4) their first nine-win season since 1905.
It also provided a measure of comfort for the Pacific-10, whose teams have gone 0-3 in bowls after the conference endured an uneven regular season.
"We didn't get it done today," Minnesota all-American strong safety Tyrone Carter said. "But that doesn't take away the season we had."
The Golden Gophers drove to the Oregon 39 after Howry's touchdown. However, linebacker Dietrich Moore sacked Billy Cockerham, forcing a fumble that was recovered by defensive end Saul Patu.
Cockerham threw three touchdown passes, with two to Ron Johnson, including a seven-yard pass on the first play of the fourth quarter that gave Minnesota a 20-17 lead. Cockerham also had three turnovers, including two interceptions.
The Golden Gophers, a run-oriented team, abandoned their rushing game in the second half. At one point, Cockerham dropped back to pass 12 straight plays.
Cockerham and Arland Bruce connected on a 38-yard scoring play to open the second half. However, freshman Dan Nystrom's second miss in 42 extra-point attempts left the Golden Gophers with a 13-7 lead. It proved crucial in the closing minutes when Minnesota needed a touchdown and not a tying field goal.
Harrington's sneak on fourth and inches on the next possession tied it and Nathan Villegas's extra point gave Oregon its first lead, 14-13, midway through the third quarter.
The Ducks, in their seventh bowl of the 1990s, increased the lead to 17-13 on a 37-yard field goal by Villegas, who played despite a torn knee ligament in his kicking leg. The kick came after the Ducks' fake punt earned a first down when cornerback Willie Middlebrooks interfered with punter Kurtis Doerr's perfect pass to Sonny Cook.
The game was tied at 7 in a first half filled with 10 punts and featuring Cockerham lining up behind a guard instead of center and Villegas's field goal attempt that ricocheted off the back of one of his linemen.
Minnesota's Cockerham found Luke Leverson between two defenders for a 36-yard gain inside the Oregon 10, setting up a two-yard fade toss to Johnson that made it 7-0.
The Ducks blew their first big opportunity when Reuben Droughns broke free for a 36-yard gain but cut into traffic instead of the open field on his way to the end zone, allowing defensive end Karon Riley to punch the ball loose. Middlebrooks recovered at the Golden Gophers 10.
Oregon finally got it right on its eighth possession, when Harrington completed a 37-yard pass to Hartley at the Minnesota 29, kick-starting the Ducks' stagnant offense.
Hartley scored from five yards on a draw to tie it at 7 with 1:11 left in the half.
Droughns gained 95 yards on 21 carries. He sat out much of the second half with cramps but returned on the final drive, gaining 11 yards on a run that set up Howry's winning score.
CAPTION: Oregon's Joey Harrington (20 of 43, 232 passing yards) moves past Minnesota's Dyron Russ for five-yard touchdown run in second quarter.