EUGENE, Ore. — When quarterback Beaux Hebert was knocked out with a concussion, Kalen Henderson knew he had to find a way to keep Nicholls State from crumbling against No. 3 Oregon.
While the Colonels lost 66-3 in a rout to the upper division Ducks, Henderson said there were still positives — including the team’s resilience in the face of Hebert’s injury.
“I thought the wind was taken out of us after the hit on Beaux,” said the Tulsa transfer, who took over for Hebert. “I just tried to lift everyone back up.”
Hebert made his first start for the Colonels, but was hit hard by Oregon cornerback Terrance Mitchell late in the first quarter and left the game. Mitchell was flagged for targeting and ejected.
Hebert, the son of New Orleans Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert, battled with Henderson for the starter’s job during fall camp after projected Nicholls starter Landry Klann required offseason shoulder surgery.
Hebert completed four of 10 passes for 42 yards before he left the game. Henderson completed 21 of 40 passes for 214 yards.
“There are some good things to build on,” Henderson said, adding with a smile: “We don’t have to face the Oregon Ducks in our conference. So we’re good to go.”
Marcus Mariota threw a touchdown pass and ran for two additional scores for Oregon. He completed 12 of 21 passes for 234 yards and ran for 113 more, sitting out after the fourth quarter.
De’Anthony Thomas ran for 128 yards and two more touchdowns for Oregon in the debut of new head coach Mark Helfrich. Helfrich, the team’s former offensive coordinator, was promoted when Chip Kelly left the Ducks in January for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.
Nicholls’ score came on Andrew Dolan’s 35-yard field goal in the second quarter and the Ducks were never really challenged by the Southland Conference program from Louisiana which has just one victory in each of the last two seasons.
The Colonels had never played a team ranked in the top five.
On its first drive Oregon scored on a 4-yard run by Thomas. On its next, Mariota found Bralon Addison with a 27-yard scoring pass to make it 14-0. Thomas added a 22-yard scoring run with 6:28 left in the first quarter and Alejandro Maldonado kicked a 29-yard field goal to make it 24-0.
Mitchell was ejected when he hit Hebert, who was sliding on the turf, and the replay showed helmet-to-helmet contact. Under a new NCAA rule this season, players who “target” and contact defenseless players will receive a 15-yard penalty and be ejected.
Shortly after the ejection, Nicholls avoided the shutout with Dolan’s 35-yarder to make it 24-3.
Colonels coach Charlie Stubbs was impressed with Henderson.
“I though he came in and did some tremendous things,” Stubbs said. “He’s got a strong arm and you could see that.”
Mariota ran for a pair of touchdowns, the first from 12 yards and the second from 46, to put the Ducks up 38-3 at the half.
The sophomore quarterback, who was on several Heisman watch lists going into the season, was selected to the Pac-12 first team last season and earned conference Freshman of the Year honors.
Byron Marshall ran for a 49-yard touchdown for the only third-quarter score, and Oregon blocked Dolan’s 42-yard field-goal attempt early in the fourth.
Colt Lyerla scored on a 3-yard run and quarterback Jeff Lockie — who took over for Mariota in the fourth quarter — added an 8-yard TD run before he was subbed out for quarterback Jake Rodrigues, who found Chance Allen in the end zone with a 23-yard pass for the final margin.
The Colonels’ last game was also in the state of Oregon. Nicholls State lost 77-3 to Oregon State in Corvallis on Dec. 1. The game, Nicholls State’s first against a Pac-12 foe, was originally scheduled as the season opener, but it was delayed when Hurricane Isaac approached Louisiana.