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The Civil War Turns 118 in Oregon as the Ducks and Beavers Brawl In Corvallis

It is as old and good a rivalry as there is in college football. On Saturday the high flying flock will try to dive bomb the holed-up Beavers.

The Great One wants to go out on top.
The Great One wants to go out on top.
Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Have you a valediction, boyo?

The Ducks made a familiar parting statement on senior day—that bittersweet afternoon that comes for the final time in college—when they sent off their own the right way. Oregon crushed a still miserable Colorado football team in front of the festive home crowd, 44-10.

If it truly was Marcus Mariota's farewell to the Emerald Valley, he went out like he came in: A special football player.

The odds-on favorite to win the Heisman Trophy racked up 396 yards of total offense against the flat-footed Buffaloes, and added four touchdowns—three by toss, and one over land.

In doing it, Mariota took over several records and joined an elite club.

In ringing up his 42nd total touchdown, he set the all-time Pac-12 record for scores in a single campaign. He also became the only quarterback in major college history to throw for more than 30 touchdowns in his freshman, sophomore and junior seasons.

In accomplishing both, he qualified as the sixth member of a club of quarterbacks who threw for more than 9,000 yards, and rushed for more than 2,000 in a career. His three seasons at the university will live on both in fact and legend for many falls to come. The campfire stories will make a formidable precedent for everyone who follows him.

"It is truly special and it’s all surreal," Mariota said on the field with the heavy emotion of the moment forcing itself into his voice.

"For a kid from Hawaii to come here and have an impact it’s truly special. Means the world. I’m very blessed."

Though it was senior day, the rest of the Pac-12 got a discomfiting glimpse of the future. Oregon freshman running back Royce Freeman piled on to his record setting season, becoming the first, first-year player to break 1,000 yards in an Oregon uniform.

Freshman wide receiver Charles Nelson caught a touchdown pass, and redshirt-sophomore Evan Baylis—who replaced at tight-end the gruesomely injured Pharaoh Brown—reeled in another.

Oregon moved to 10-1 (7-1 Pac-12), and advanced to its 12th Labor as a prelude to the first conference championship at the brand new, and splendid, Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.

On the season, the Ducks have overcome an unbelievable seven serious injuries to their starting offensive line. Last week they replaced their All-American center Hroniss Grasu for the blowout win.

"I checked myself," Oregon’s offensive line coach Steve Greatwood told ESPN. "What did I do wrong? Who did I offend? Which one of the gods did I offend?"

Whichever group it had been—and the gods have a reputation for forming cliques—his burnt offerings appeased their cruel wrath and allowed the Ducks to maneuver to the College Football Playoff’s number 2 ranking.

If the team wins out, its spot in the sport’s first ever Final Four is assured. The Ducks will have a chance to play for the crown. Over these four months they have developed into yet another elite Oregon team that closed into a tight formation and caught the prevailing jet-stream under its wings.

But there is no future as pressing as tomorrow’s—and just four of those from today—the Ducks will battle in their 118th Civil War.

It is a civil war with affection, if such a thing exists. How could it be anything else when two of nature’s most comically non-violent animals go to battle for state supremacy?

The Ducks versus the Beavers embodies the Willamette Valley in the autumn, where the rains fall from low gray clouds softly onto the green and yellow timbered mountains, and the salmon work up-river from the wild coast.

The sharp weather—low fog, drizzling rain, gray skies—is a poignant character in the autumn drama. The old, old rivalry, which the local Oregonian put into chronology, makes a magnificent slideshow. The game photos—some going back to 1899—are marvels.

What amazes you about them is how much of it is still the same. Those long gone "rooters" and "cranks" that lined the field and perched on top of the fences all hollered, cheered, boozed and booed with the same intensity of importance as you do. You would recognize one another if you could meet across time. It is pure college football.

At the moment, Oregon has run up a six game winning streak on Oregon State, but any outcome is possible in a true rivalry game. So many of these battles have been closer than they should’ve been, while numbers more were far worse than anyone thought they could’ve been. Ten times, before overtime came to fruition in college football, they ended in stalemates.

And Oregon State cherishes one of the most "only the Beavers" statistics there ever has been, in Corvallis or anywhere else. Since 2000, no team in America has more home wins over top 10 teams when they are unranked than Oregon State. That little encampment in the valley is like a declivity in the fabric of reality.

This season, the Beavers are a surprisingly poor 5-6 (2-6 Pac-12). What could be weirder, and more fitting, than a black-and-orange upset at Reser Stadium?

But the Ducks know too well the ground they are about to tread.

"I think the focus has been great," senior wideout Keanon Lowe told GoDucks. "I don’t think we can have any off days at this point in the season. But, like I said, Oregon State is a good team and they always come to play in this rivalry game."

If the Beavers strap on the matte-black, striped helmets they wore upsetting no. 6 Arizona State two weekends ago—truly their medicine might be strong. Whatever genius designed those made it so when you look at the lids from any distance middle or beyond, the white stripes coming down the face mask appear to be beaver teeth. The helmets belong in an art museum.

Oregon State head coach Mike Riley got into the meaning of the Civil War during his Sunday night conference call.

"I really feel fortunate to be a part of the game to this day. Because it’s one of those things that when you are a young kid and as involved as we were with my dad coaching, this was in my life the biggest game I ever remembered from the time I was in the sixth grade. So it’s pretty special to get to continue to be involved in it. It’s obviously, for everybody in our state, one of the great sporting events of the year."

Riley talked also about this year’s flock of Ducks and how tough they are to beat.

"We certainly understand how good they are and where they sit in the college football world, but our focus is, really, on us," the coach said.

"We’ve got to get prepared to play against the best we’re gonna play this year. So it is definitely about us in our preparation."

Oregon’s uniforms require no introduction at all. If the Beavers have one helmet enshrined, the Ducks have half a dozen.

But this game—for its good looks, its interesting history—will boil down to competitive greatness.

Oregon, the superior team, controls its path to the playoff. If the Ducks play their game to its fullest force they are as tough to beat as the toughest. Will the Mariota-era's valedictory be a national championship?

Oregon State—the consensus underdog—has for motivation a minor bowl game and a chance to live in glorious infamy for all of history. That's more than enough. The heart will be willing, but will the bodies be able?

This rivalry is pure college football and it kicks off Saturday at 5 p.m. Pacific.