STANFORD, Calif. -- Toby Gerhart and Stanford did to the Oregon defense what the Ducks did a week ago to Southern California, opening up the Pac-10 race with a program-defining victory.
Gerhart ran for a school-record 223 yards and three scores, Andrew Luck threw for two touchdowns and Stanford held on to beat Oregon (No. 8 BCS, No. 7 AP) 51-42 Saturday to become bowl eligible for the first time in eight years.
"This was definitely my biggest win since I've been here at Stanford," Gerhart said, ranking it ahead of the victory over No. 2 USC two years ago.
"I think it's definitely bigger than the USC win because it gets us to that bowl game. All our seniors, the goal coming in was to be a bowl team. This was by far the biggest win. The students storming the field, that was an awesome feeling."
Stanford had lost in its past five games with a chance to become eligible for a bowl and now are in position to play a postseason game for the first time since Tyrone Willingham's final year in 2001 after snapping a seven-game losing streak to the Ducks.
The loss by Oregon (7-2, 5-1 Pac-10) just a week after gaining 613 yards in a 47-20 win over USC cost the Ducks any shot at a berth in the Bowl Championship Series title game and took away any margin for error if they want to win the conference outright.
Oregon rallied with two late touchdowns to cut a 20-point lead down to six, but Stanford (6-3, 5-2) recovered an onside kick with 2:38 to go and tacked on Nate Whitaker's third field goal with 11 seconds left to seal the win.
"We got beat by a better team," coach Chip Kelly said. "If you say we got caught looking behind or looking ahead, it takes away from Stanford. Stanford is a heck of a football team."
Luck took advantage of vast open areas in the middle of the Oregon defense, completing four passes of at least 20 yards in the first half alone. Even when the Ducks had good coverage, Luck managed to connect with his receivers downfield.
He finished 12 for 20 for 251 yards, throwing an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jim Dray in the second quarter and a 31-yarder to Chris Owusu after Oregon cut the Cardinal lead to 10 points early in the third quarter.
"Just an unbelievable performance by Andrew," Harbaugh said. "I don't know how you can play better. How can you play better as a quarterback? What can you say he should have done better? Who could have done better?"
The Ducks got the lead back to 10 on a 3-yard keeper by Jeremiah Masoli, before Gerhart carried Oregon defenders into the end zone on a 17-yard run that made it 45-28 late in the third quarter.
Gerhart had 38 carries, punishing Oregon defenders on each run. He broke the previous record of 220 set by Jon Volpe in 1988 and broke his single-season rushing record set last year with 1,217.
"As usual he was just unbelievable," fullback Owen Marecic said. "It's great blocking for him. I have to get a hat on somebody and he'll do the rest. His performance speaks for itself. He carried the team today. He was just awesome."
On a day when the teams combined for 93 points and more than 1,000 yards, Stanford did deliver one big defensive play to end the third quarter.
With Oregon trailing by 17, Kelly decided to go for it on fourth-and-3 from the Stanford 40. Michael Thomas, who played the role of Masoli in practice, blitzed from his cornerback position and took down the real version Masoli for no gain. The Cardinal tacked on a field goal to take a 48-28 lead.
"We had a lot of ups and downs no question about it. It's frustrating. We don't get 1 yard and that's it," Masoli said. "We were watching their offense move the ball and score and it's instinctive that we wanted to score every time."
Masoli was 21 for 37 for 334 yards and three touchdowns. He added 55 yards and a score on the ground. LaMichael James added 125 yards rushing, including a 60-yard score in the first quarter.
The Cardinal got off to a fast start when Owusu returned the opening kickoff 77 yards to set up a field goal. Stanford's offense didn't slow down. A 25-yard pass from Luck to Owusu set up Gerhart's first touchdown run and Gerhart scored again on the next possession to make it 17-7. Owusu had four catches for 111 yards and two long kickoff returns.
Luck added the TD pass to Dray and then threw a 39-yarder to Ryan Whalen that set up Marecic's 2-yard run that gave the Cardinal a 31-14 lead. Marecic had a busy day, starting at fullback as usual and at middle linebacker in place of the injured Clinton Snyder.
Marecic was out of position on Oregon's first touchdown as James burst up the middle untouched for a 60-yard score and did not play on defense after the first quarter. The Ducks got their other first-half score on a 29-yard pass from Masoli to Jeff Maehl one play after Gerhart lost a fumble.