Huskies lose to Oregon by a foot

Troy Wayrynen photo

Potential game-winning FG sails wide right

The Washington football team went toe to toe with Oregon for 59 minutes and 57 seconds in a classic game at Autzen Stadium, 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 wide right from 37 yards out as regulation play ended, and the Ducks emerged from the ensuing overtime as a 30-27 winner when 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 and effectively knocked them out of any more national playoff conversation.

On a perfect fall day for football, Washington was amazingly resilient—losing four key players and relying on its third- and fourth-string tailbacks throughout the fourth quarter and the extra session without any noticeable falloff. The Huskies just couldn’t close the deal with their redshirt freshman kicker.

After a defensive stop at its 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 enormous 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 all of the psychological ploys were used, the Huskies snap and hold were true. Henry, however, yanked the kick wide by a couple of feet and 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, giving his team a first-and-goal situation at the Oregon 6. The next three plays netted just three yards and Henry was summoned for a 22-yard field goal that split the uprights this time.

In the extra session, the Ducks (5-1, 2-1) overcame a holding penalty that appeared to be a drive-killer when top NFL quarterback prospect Justin Herbert found Dillon Mitchell with a 17-yard pass to the Washington 9. Three plays later, Verdell, a redshirt freshman from Chula Vista, California, burst up the middle for the last six of his game-high 111 yards rushing and the second of his two touchdowns, and the hard-fought game was over.

The defeat overshadowed several heady individual performances by the Huskies, who not only lost their top two backs but also starting senior cornerback Jordan Miller to an undisclosed injury and senior defensive tackle 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 linebackers 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, or two and a half games.

The lack of an overall pass rush, however, enabled Oregon’s Herbert to stand in the pocket without much pressure and effectively move his team up the field. The 6-foot-6 junior from Eugene completed 18 of 32 passes for 202 yards and touchdowns to 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 Ty Jones in the third quarter, and he 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 cornerback Deommodore Lenoir intercepted Browning on the second play from scrimmage, but was treated to a highly competitive and physical football game. 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 three and four periods. This was the first overtime game in the long series.

“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 the sophomore later came back on the field though he didn’t touch the ball again.

Johnson was disqualified midway through the fourth quarter in Eugene and for most of the upcoming Colorado game when Oregon’s Herbert turned into him trying to avoid a sack and the UW senior hit the quarterback 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 defensive tackle John Clark took considerable snaps against the Ducks even while Johnson was still available.

Finally, the Huskies need to build more confidence in Henry. The young place-kicker has missed three of his past six field-goal attempts, including both of his tries against BYU, with one of them a 24-yarder. Few will remember this milestone, but he converted his career-long field goal from 41 yards out on 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.