The seventh-ranked Washington football team went toe to toe with No. 17 Oregon for 59 minutes and 57 seconds in a classic at Autzen Stadium in Eugene Saturday, losing several key players along the way but somehow putting itself in position for a hugely satisfying victory. Unfortunately for the Huskies, their foot failed them.
Peyton Henry hooked a potential game-winning field goal slightly wide right from 37 yards as regulation play ended, and the Ducks emerged from the ensuing overtime as a 30-27 winner (box) when RB C.J. Verdell’s 6-yard touchdown run trumped a successful but shorter Henry 3-pointer.
“It was certainly in Peyton’s range,” UW coach Chris Petersen said of the critical miss. “We’re going to make some. Unfortunately, we didn’t make that one.”
The loss was as disappointing as any for the Huskies (5-2 overall, 3-1 Pac-12) in the 111-game rivalry — the first overtime in series history — and knocked them out of the national playoff conversation.
Washington had won the previous two games in the series 70-21 and 38-3, so the Ducks were more than amped. But on a perfect fall day for football, Washington was amazingly resilient, losing four key players and relying on their third- and fourth-string tailbacks throughout the fourth quarter and the extra session without noticeable falloff. The Huskies just couldn’t close the deal with their redshirt freshman kicker.
After a defensive stop at their 27 with 5:05 left in the game, Washington methodically ran down the clock as it drove to the Ducks 20. On third-and-one, Petersen signaled for a timeout with three seconds left and his left-footed placekicker trotted out on the field. As Henry lined up for the kick, Oregon coach Mario Cristobal twice called for timeouts to make the young player think about the task at hand.
The ball was snapped anyway each time and Henry followed through by missing the first no-counter and making the second attempt, seemingly leaving him all warmed up for the real thing.
Once the psychological ploys were exhausted, the Huskies’ snap and hold were true. Henry, however, yanked the kick by a couple of feet. He ended up lying on his back, in agony, holding his facemask with both hands. The game was still tied, but it felt lost.
“It was very tough,” said Sean McGrew, a redshirt freshman who carried much of the fourth-quarter load at running back when veterans Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed were lost to injuries. “You always look back and think what could we have done more.”
The Huskies had other chances, too. On the first play in overtime, reserve back Kamari Pleasant broke a 19-yard run over the right side, providing a first-and-goal at the Oregon 6. The next three plays netted three yards and Henry was summoned for a 22-yard field goal that split the uprights.
In the extra session, the Ducks (5-1, 2-1) overcame a holding penalty that appeared to be a drive-killer until, on third-and-12, top NFL quarterback prospect Justin Herbert found WR Dillon Mitchell with a 17-yard pass to the Washington 9. Three plays later, Verdell, a redshirt freshman from Chula Vista, CA., burst up the middle for the last six of his game-high 111 yards rushing and the second of his two touchdowns.
The defeat overshadowed several heady individual performances by the Huskies, who not only lost their top two backs but also starting senior CB Jordan Miller to an undisclosed injury and senior DT Jaylen Johnson to a targeting penalty and ejection.
McGrew and Pleasant each stepped up with 30 yards rushing, on eight and four carries, respectively, and McGrew added a key fourth-down catch in the final period.
Gaskin and Ahmed were sidelined with what appeared to be shoulder and knee injuries. Gaskin, the Huskies’ all-time leading rusher, played long enough to carry the ball 15 times for 71 yards while Ahmed picked up 61 yards rushing on 11 carries and ran for two touchdowns, including a first-quarter score on an end-around from 24 yards out.
UW inside LBs Ben Burr-Kirven and Tevis Bartlett were defensive stalwarts, providing 19 and 12 tackles, respectively, with Bartlett registering a fourth-quarter sack — the UW’s first in nearly 10 quarters.
The lack of a pass rush, however, enabled Herbert to stand in the pocket without much pressure, and moved his team steadily. The 6-foot-6 junior from Eugene completed 18 of 32 passes for 202 yards and touchdowns to WR Jaylen Redd and Mitchell.
Washington’s Jake Browning, in his final outing against the Ducks, wasn’t bad either. The senior hit on 15 of 25 throws for 243 yards, which included a 43-yard TD strike to sophomore WR Ty Jones in the third quarter. Browning completed nine consecutive passes at one point in the second half.
The sellout crowd of 58,691 saw the game begin with an immediate turnover, when Oregon CB Deommodore Lenoir intercepted Browning on the second play from scrimmage, but was treated to a highly competitive and physical contest. Matching scores until the end, the Northwest rivals were never more than a touchdown apart and were usually tied. It was 10-10 after the first quarter, 17-all at half, and 24-24 after the third and fourth periods.
“We swung hard but Oregon made one more play that we did,” Petersen said.
The Huskies, who host Colorado next weekend at home, are left to play spoiler now and at best hope to land a New Year’s Day bowl game. They haven’t been to the Rose Bowl in 17 seasons, which is something to play for.
While the UW’s depth at running back is impressive, it’s unclear when Gaskin will play again. Ahmed’s injury, which came without contact when he turned awkwardly, didn’t appear as serious and later came back on the field, though he didn’t touch the ball again.
Johnson was disqualified midway through the fourth quarter, as well as for most of the Colorado game. Herbert turned into him trying to avoid a sack and the UW senior hit him first with his helmet. The Huskies were already thin on the defensive line after losing senior Shane Bowman three games ago to a foot fracture. Little-used junior DT John Clark took considerable snaps against the Ducks even while Johnson was still available.
Finally, the Huskies need to build more confidence in Henry. He has missed three of his past six field-goal attempts, including both tries against BYU, one a 24-yarder. Few will remember this milestone, but he converted his career-long field goal from 41 yards in his first attempt against Oregon. But he missed one that would have made him a UW legend. Now Henry’s left to overcome a deep scar.
Check out Dan Raley’s Washington football coverage at collegesportsmaven.io/Washington/