Witnesses may have believed that the pivotal moment of the game came when Tristan Vizcaino hit the first game-winning field goal of his life from 38 yards at 00:00 to give the Washington Huskies a delirious 33-30 win over Utah Saturday night at Husky Stadium. They would be wrong.
The same witnesses may have thought that, on the previous drive, the pivotal moment came on an unlikely 28-yard catch-and-run by TE Will Dissly to the Utah 3 that set up the game-tying touchdown. They would be wrong again.
The same witnesses may have thought that the pivotal moment came with 4:40 left when QB Jake Browning, not seeing an open receiver in the end zone, tried to run for a first down and fourth-and-eight on the Utah 15. He broke from the pocket for six yards and tried to leap for the final two, but instead was flipped upside down and crash-landed, short and hard. This time, they would be right — for the wrong reason.
As many of those witnesses began leaving, presuming a 30-23 Washington defeat, the pivotal moment came when RB Lavon Coleman confronted a prone, pained Browning on the Husky Stadium turf.
“I told him to get his ass up,” Coleman recalled, grinning. “If you hurt, get going; if you injured, be gone.”
Browning’s ill-advised leap put him in serious physical jeopardy, but he said he had no choice.
“I wasn’t going to run through the guy,” he said of his tackler. “So I jumped, and I came down funny. For a minute I thought my leg was broken.”
It wasn’t. Properly scolded by Coleman, Browning rose up and delivered the best moments of his often desultory junior season. In one stretch, he completed seven passes in a row for 108 yards over Washington’s final two possessions, which covered 112 yards in 14 plays and produced an astonishing 10 points in the final 58 seconds.
The Utes looked as if they had fallen into a toilet.
“I thought we played very well for 58 minutes,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “(Browning) threw the ball up and those receivers made some terrific plays.”
Given Washington’s repeated and ghastly failures on defense and special teams, Browning’s revival was the only hope to avert a second loss in a row and complete a dismal evening.
In the second quarter came news that Stanford beat Cal to eliminate UW from the Pac-12 North’s shot at a berth in the conference title game. If Washington State wins the Apple Cup Saturday (5 p.m., FOX), the Cougars advance. If the Huskies win, Stanford goes against South winner USC.
Coleman said there was little hope if Browning didn’t stand and deliver.
“The quarterback is the general of your team,” he said. “If he goes down, it kinda shakes everything. I told him to get up. He got up.
“He showed me his toughness. He showed me that going back to Rutgers (the season opener). Seeing him get up, shake it off and do that drive to win the game, you know you got a good general.”
Browning completed 26 of 35 passes for 354 yards, no picks or fumbles and only two sacks. Especially given his late heroics, it was his finest game in a season that moved the Huskies to 9-2. His two TD passes gave him 77 for his career and the UW record over Keith Price. He’s tied with John Elway for 14th in conference history.
“That was a pretty cool game to be a part of,” Browning said. I’m emotionally, mentally, and physically just very tired.”
Coach Chris Petersen knew that Browning pulled the Huskies out of a bad fix after the defense gave up 30 points for the second week in a row.
“I’m proud of Jake,” he said. “He did some really good things and made some clutch plays. All of those guys executed well. There was a lot of pressure on them to get things done. They made plays when they had to.”
None more so than Vizcaino, the fifth-year senior who struggled frequently and again Saturday, missing a field goal and a PAT. But after Browning finally missed a pass to WR Dante Pettis, who appeared to be pulled down by his defender near the end zone but drew no flag, Petersen did not hesitate.
“I didn’t say anything to him,” he said. “We had nothing to lose at that stage. I think he’s cleaner from the left hash. I really thought he was going to make it. It was great to see him make it. I think the team was really, really happy for him.”
As with any kicker, Vizcaino dreamed of the moment when the game was his, especially since he’d never had the privilege at any time in his career.
“It felt great — one of the best, if not the best, feeling you can have as a kicker,” he said. “I wanted the game-winner. I wanted it last week at Stanford if we were in that position too. Our specialist unit — Race Porter, A.J. Carty — this was a moment we have been preparing for and a moment we have wanted.”
They don’t come in more dramatic fashion, especially to finish off 10 points in the final minute. The win was a dream, the season less so, after the prospect of a second appearance in the College Football Playoffs faded away.
But given the injuries on offense, the 9-2 mark is plenty enough to make the Apple Cup with the 9-2 Cougars an unusually worthy neighborhood brawl.
“It was loud tonight,” Coleman said, “but ain’t loud compared to what it’s gonna be Saturday.”
All together, everyone — get your asses up.