Nine Defining Plays of 2012 Season: #2 The Kick


4. The Kick (November 17, vs. Stanford, Overtime)

The Play: On 4th down and 9, Alejandro Maldonado misses a 41-yard field goal attempt.

MaldonadoScott Norwood. Kyle Brotzman. Gerry Thomas. Do these names ring a bell? Most likely, you don’t remember these kickers for the kicks they made. Their legacies belong to the kicks they missed.

Norwood’s 47-yard miss cost the Buffalo Bills Super Bowl XXV. Brotzman’s 26-yard attempt against Nevada would have put undefeated Boise State in position to compete in a BCS bowl game, but he pushed it right, and the Wolf Pack upset the Broncos in overtime after Brotzman misfired again – this time from 29 yards. Florida State’s Gerry Thomas’s 34-yard miss against Miami in 1991, known as “Wide Right I”, cost the Seminoles a victory in a crucial late-season rivalry game.

Last season, two Pac-12 kickers earned infamy with ill-timed shanks. First, with the Ducks having pulled within 3 points of USC in a furious comeback, Oregon kicker Alejandro Maldonado pulled a 37-yarder wide left as time expired – crushing aspirations for a BCS National Championship berth.

Then, a month and a half later, Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson missed a 35-yard attempt that would have won the Cardinal the Fiesta Bowl over Oklahoma State. Instead, the game went to overtime, in which Williamson missed a 43-yarder, opening the door for Oklahoma State to win 41-38.

The bright side? Williamson was just a freshman. Maldonado, a sophomore. Somewhere down the line, both would have a chance at redemption. Those chances just so happened to come within moments of each other a season later, on a frigid November night in Eugene, with the Pac-12 North title on the line, as well as yet another chance at a national championship berth for the Ducks.

Having been stymied by Stanford’s swarming rush defense and atypical inaccuracy from quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Ducks’ offense went three-and-out on their overtime-opening drive, and out came Maldonado to attempt a 41-yarder.

The cliché goes: the home crowd went silent after the kicker missed. Really though, the stadium was already dead quiet as Maldonado lined up for his attempt. In a season that had seen the Ducks barely challenged, let alone taken to overtime, the team’s fate rested once again on the much-maligned sophomore placekicker.

And so came the snap, the hold, and the kick – slowly sailing left, then clanking off of the upright. Once again, if Oregon was to lose this game, its kicker would be the scapegoat.

SONY DSCOf course, placing blame directly on Maldonado’s shoulders is unfair. In a close game, one can point to numerous “could’ve been, should’ve been” moments. There was De’Anthony Thomas, mindlessly running downfield alongside Marcus Mariota on a first quarter burst, and failing to supply a block that would have allowed Mariota to score. There was Chip Kelly’s playcalling in the final minute of regulation, in which he called for conservative run plays.

There was the miscommunication between Mariota and receiver Josh Huff on the play preceding the missed kick, in which Huff broke his route off in the opposite direction of Mariota’s pass. There was Zach Ertz’s game-tying touchdown reception, in which it appeared his shoulder may have hit the ground out-of-bounds. Even after the kick, there was Michael Clay’s inability to corral a Stanford fumble that, if recovered, would have sent the game to a second overtime.

But no. This loss will always be remembered for Maldonado’s missed field goal. From here, you know how the story went. Williamson, unlike Maldonado, found redemption, sending his 37-yard field goal through the uprights and the visiting Stanford crowd into a raucous celebration, heard beyond the stunned silence of the Oregon faithful.

And so goes the nature of being the kicker. You may be nearly anonymous, a sort of sideshow to the game your teammates play – until you’re not, in either the best way, or the worst. There’s little room for an in-between. On November 17, 2012, Williamson’s legacy became that of a hero. Maldonado’s, that of a goat.

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