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Saturday, December 27, 2008

A COMMON BONDMoevao and Masoli could become the first Samoans to face off at QB in the Civil War

Published: Nov 27, 2008 07:25AM

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Kevin Clark/The Register-Guard

OSU’s Lyle Moevao and Oregon’s Jeremiah Masoli have been part of a wave of Polynesian quarterbacks in the Pac-10 this season and are expected to start Saturday’s Civil War.

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They will meet face to face for the first time Saturday at Reser Stadium and, from the outside, it’s easy to say that looking at each other will be like looking in the mirror for Jeremiah Masoli and Lyle Moevao.

Yes, the physical similarities of the two Samoan quarterbacks are many, so much so that Oregon teammates tease Masoli about his “twin” in Corvallis.

Moevao, the Oregon State junior, notices other intangibles that aren’t as easily recognized.

“The common things we hold are our leadership techniques,” Moevao said. “We’re poised, we lead our team and we’re able to psych up our teammates. I know I see that out of him on TV.”

Moevao reached out to Masoli for the first time a few weeks ago, and as their first head-to-head meeting in the Civil War loomed closer, they talked or texted regularly. As part of an exclusive club of Samoan quarterbacks, they have a natural bond, and they say they hope the best for each other.

Just not necessarily on Saturday, when the No. 17 Beavers host the No. 19 Ducks at 4 p.m. Saturday in one of the biggest of the schools’ 112 meetings.

Moevao has missed two of OSU’s last three games with a right (throwing) shoulder injury, but he pronounced himself ready earlier this week. If he does play, it would be the first time two Samoan quarterbacks face off in the Civil War.

“I’m definitely proud of something like that,” said Masoli, the UO sophomore. “It’s just something our culture can look at and something young boys can look up to and know it’s possible for them.”

In the bigger picture, Masoli and Moevao are indeed flag-bearers for the growth of Polynesians in the sport, joining quarterbacks Willie Tuitama of Arizona and Tavita Pritchard of Stanford in a breakthrough season for Samoans, in particular.

On Saturday, however, Masoli and Moevao will be more focused on carrying their teams. As Moevao said, they’ll do so with a similar leadership style that has earned the respect of teammates.

It’s the other similarities that stand out at first glance:

Both are stocky and strong-armed: Masoli is listed at 5-feet-11, 214 pounds; Moevao is 5-11, 220. At their size, both are often told they look like they should play fullback.

Both have names that can be tricky to pronounce: it’s muh-SO-lee, and MOY-vow.

Both have detailed Samoan tattoos that stretch out of their uniforms.

Both have shown a proven ability to lay out a defender: see Masoli’s hit on the UCLA safety this season, and Moevao’s block of a UW defender last year.

Their arrival in the Pac-10 also took a similar path. Neither was recruited heavily out of high school, so they attended California junior colleges for one season.

At El Camino JC, Moevao threw for 2,652 yards with 29 touchdown and just nine interceptions, earning honorable-mention all-American honors in 2005.

Masoli was a third-team all-American while leading the City College of San Francisco to the JC national title last year, throwing for 3,592 yards with 30 touchdowns and five interceptions.

“It was definitely tough early on,” Moevao said. “Then going through junior college, it was a confidence boost, but there was still a lot to be done.”

After redshirting at OSU in 2006, Moevao got his chance to start when Sean Canfield went down with an injury midway through last season. The Beavers finished 4-0 with Moevao as the starter.

Masoli, too, got his chance with the Ducks this season because of injuries. Entering fall camp fifth on the depth chart, he emerged as the starter in the fourth game of the season.

“It’s been a ride. It’s definitely been a ride,” Masoli said, reflecting on his ascent since arriving in Eugene in the summer.

“I just had to hang in there the whole time and keep the faith and keep confidence in myself.”

Moevao has the better passing numbers this season. He’s on pace to set the OSU single-season record with a 61.9 completion percentage, and he’s thrown for 1,967 yards, with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

He has minus-76 yards rushing, an advantage that clearly is Masoli’s.

While the UO passing game struggled at times this season, Masoli was a surprise success as a runner, with 559 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Masoli’s performance in Oregon’s last two games — a late rally to beat Stanford, and 387 yards of total offense and five TDs in a victory over Arizona — quieted some of the earlier criticism of the passing game.

“Most teams in that situation would just (say), ‘Oh, our passing game’s not going,’ and just kick out the playbook,” UO senior running back Jeremiah Johnson said. “We stayed with it. And these last couple of games have really showed our passing game, and I can’t wait for it to blossom for Oregon State.”

Johnson noted that Masoli has improved every week, both with his command of the offense and the huddle.

“The first couple of games he was more timid in the huddle,” Johnson said. Now, “he definitely got our attention.”

As a first-year player, Masoli also has adapted well to the media demands of a starting quarterback. He’s thoughtful and accessible in interviews.

Moevao might be more an extrovert.

He’s playful and easy-going with the press. He’s also known as one of OSU’s main pranksters.

Earlier this week, as OSU safety Greg Laybourn sat at a podium to talk to the media, Moevao stood at the back of the room, behind the cameras, and lifted his shirt and flailed his arms, trying to distract Laybourn.

On Saturday, Masoli and Moevao will finally get a chance to look at each other up close. They said they’ll try to find a moment to connect before the game, to shake hands for the first time.

Then the new friends will quickly become rivals.

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