EUGENE -- Sometimes football can be a very cruel game.
I mean a whole bunch of very good football players can match up against each other for 59 minutes and 55 seconds, but in the end, watch their game be decided by a soccer player.
If only, I've always said, if they'd just take the "foot" out of football, the game would be so much more fair. The Ducks roared back from a 38-14 deficit in the second half Saturday night only to watch in dismay when placekicker Alejandro Maldonado shanked the kick wide to the left as time ran out in the game.
The result was a 38-35 loss to the USC Trojans.
The kick would have sent the game into overtime and kept Oregon's now-extinguished national-title hopes alive. A loss Friday night by Oklahoma State had opened the door -- for 24 hours, at least -- for the Ducks to somehow climb back into the BCS title-game picture.
But this loss killed it. And now Oregon must be content with the possibility of a Rose Bowl berth, which it can grab if it beats Oregon State next weekend and then knocks off the Pac-12 south winner in the league's championship game, which would be played in Autzen Stadium.
Oregon was probably lucky, given its mistakes, to even have a shot at sending the game into overtime. The Ducks trailed throughout and fumbled the ball four times, two times losing them. Each fumble destroyed a possible scoring chance, including one by LaMichael James at the nine-yard line just before halftime.
James said the brace on his injured left elbow broke on that play.
"Just bad luck," he said. "When it breaks, it straightens my arm out. There's nothing I can do to bend it. And then I couldn't hold onto the ball."
The Ducks were down 38-14 with 3:28 to play in the third quarter when De'Anthony Thomas lit the fuse on a rally with a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. James later scored with 7:05 to go and Oregon cut the lead to 38-35 on a two-point conversion.
The Trojans took the ball right back up the field, though, and looked for all the world ready to score a clinching touchdown. But Marc Tyler fumbled at the Duck 14 and Brandon Hanna recovered with 2:31 to play.
Oregon quickly moved upfield, without using its timeouts. Yes, Oregon got its plays off quickly but still, the seconds lost many times in between plays meant the Ducks got only to the USC 20 with time running out.
Still, Maldonado was set up in the middle of the field for a 37-yarder, which should be a piece of cake for a college kicker. But the Ducks don't seem to play enough close games to ever put their kickers into such situations very often. Maldonado certainly had never been in such a spot in his college career.
His attempt was way left, never having a chance.
"You can't just put it all on the last play," Chip Kelly said. "All of us, including me with some play calling, could look back and find things we did that could have meant the difference.
"We made too many mistakes. You can't turn the ball over like this in this league."
NOTES -- This was Kelly's first home loss as Duck head coach... Kenjon Barner had 123 yards on 15 rushes. ... James moved into first place on Oregon's career all-purpose yardage list with 5,310. ... Michael Clay had 12 tackles to lead the Ducks defense. ... Oregon out-gained the Trojans 474 yards to 462.