LAS VEGAS — The Washington football team sure knows how to throw a farewell party. It was one thoughtful gift after another in Chris Petersen’s final hour.
On a cool night in the Nevada desert, the Huskies presented their departing coach with an aggressive defense. They handed him an equally efficient offense. Everything came in a big box with a bow on top.
In a final show of appreciation, they let Petersen relax and enjoy himself from start to finish against his old team, Boise State, in the 28th Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium. They sent him off with a rousing 38-7 victory (box).
The Huskies (8-5) effectively tore down a Broncos program that Petersen spent 14 years building up, before he switched jobs and went to Washington in 2014. There were no apologies.
“I think we’ve got some weapons,” Petersen said. “I think we all feel like that. They’ll take the next step.”
The Huskies were all business from the outset, scoring on their first drive, then pouring it on. The 17-0 lead halftime lead grew by another touchdown before the 19th-ranked Broncos (12-2) could even respond.
Redshirt freshman RB Richard Newton showed the full range of his skill set, rushing for a touchdown and passing for another. He was the game’s leading rusher with 69 yards on 15 carries.
However, Las Vegas Bowl MVP honors went to junior CB Elijah Molden, who led the Huskies with nine tackles and had an interception to open the second half that would keep things from getting interesting.
“It was pretty good incentive, with him and the seniors, too,” said Molden, a first-team All-Pac-12 section, of the coaching change. “Every game’s important but some games are more important. We had a lot of weeks to let this simmer.”
The Huskies looked ready to play in this gambling mecca, rolling a couple of matching numbers to open the game and set the tone.
S Myles Bryant, who wears No. 5, intercepted Boise State freshman QB Hank Bachmeier and returned the ball 26 yards to the UW 48. Twelve plays later, wide receiver Andre Baccellia, who also wears No. 5, caught a 17-yard scoring pass from QB Jacob Eason.
Eason, who might have played his last game for the Huskies on his way to the NFL, was steady all night. The junior completed 19 of 29 passes for 157 yards and this lone score. He still wasn’t ready to tip his hand on his future. He has until Jan. 20 to put his name into the draft.
“I’m going to talk with my family and my coaches and figure things out,” Eason said.
The Huskies added another touchdown in the second quarter when RB Salvon Ahmed broke two tackles and scored from eight yards out. The lead grew to 17-0 when Peyton Henry kicked a 32-yard field goal on the last play of the half.
Molden’s pick ended Boise State’s first series of the third quarter. He returned it 31 yards to the Broncos 24. Three plays later, Newton bounced into the end zone.
Boise State changed quarterbacks, from the frustrated Bachmeier to senior Jaylon Henderson. That led to the Broncos’ only points, a one-yard scoring run by George Holani. That’s as generous as the Huskies got.
Newton, who often runs out the wildcat and played quarterback in high school, lofted 13-yard TD pass to Terrell Bynum, who was well-covered.
Ahmed scored his second touchdown from 12 yards out with 2:29 left in the game, though LB Jackson Sirmon nearly added another with a 54-yard fumble runback with scant seconds left.
Along the sidelines, Petersen received the traditional Gatorade bath and started hugging players as the clock wound down to zero. He ran onto to the field, followed by a horde of media, who watched him embrace Boise State coach Bryan Harsin and several Broncos players.
“When I got to midfield, I thought what Chris Petersen meant to a lot of us, to college football, and it’s the reason we’re in a lot positions that we are today,” Harsin said. “I respect him a lot.”
Typical of Petersen, he called for his successor, Jimmy Lake, to join him on the victory stand. They held the Vegas Bowl trophy together. The torch was passed.
Dan Raley is a former Seattle Post-Intelligencer sports writer whose work can be found at Sports Illustrated / Maven