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University of Washington Huskies Football
Sports >  UW football

UW Huskies overcome significant absences and disappearing offense to top Cal in overtime

UPDATED: Sat., Sept. 25, 2021

Washington's Sean McGrew (5) scores against California in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, in Seattle.  (Associated Press)
Washington's Sean McGrew (5) scores against California in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, in Seattle. (Associated Press)
By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

The missing didn’t matter.

At least, for a half.

Arguably UW’s two top players, cornerback Trent McDuffie and tight end Cade Otton, didn’t play in the Huskies’ Pac-12 opener against Cal on Saturday night. McDuffie’s absence was unsurprising, after the 195-pound sophomore left last weekend’s 52-3 win over Arkansas State with an apparent ankle injury. As for Otton, a UW spokesperson confirmed he’s currently in the program’s COVID protocol (but declined to divulge further details).

Together, the two had played in a combined 54 consecutive games.

That streak is over.

The Huskies replaced it with a winning streak, topping Cal 31-24 in overtime — after managing just three measly points in the third and fourth quarters.

On third-and-goal from the 2-yard line in the opening possession of overtime, UW running back Sean McGrew took a direct snap, faked a hand off and plunged over the goal line for the go-ahead touchdown — the sixth-year senior’s second of the game. And when Cal attempted to answer on first-and-goal from the 2, inside linebacker Jackson Sirmon and safety Cameron Williams combined to force a Damien Moore fumble that outside linebacker Ryan Bowman recovered to instantly end the game.

But the game should have ended a whole lot earlier. After scoring on four consecutive drives and assuming a 24-10 lead, the Husky offense suddenly stalled — ending consecutive drives with a three-and-out, a Kamari Pleasant fumble, a missed 47-yard field goal by placekicker Peyton Henry and two more three-and-outs. UW managed a grand total of 62 yards in its last five drives in regulation, culminating with an inexplicable Dylan Morris deep shot on third-and-2 in a tie game that fell incomplete of wide receiver Jalen McMillan with 1:35 left.

Meanwhile, Cal quarterback Chase Garbers stormed up the gut to tie the game at 24-24 with 2:51 left. The Bears then had a chance to win in regulation, but Dario Longhetto’s 55-yard field goal attempt fell short as time expired.

Without McDuffie, sophomore Kyler Gordon — UW’s other starting cornerback — got right to work on Saturday, jumping a comeback route for his first career interception on Cal’s third offensive play. The Huskies cashed in seven plays later, when Morris turned to his left and unleashed a laser that wide receiver Taj Davis snagged in tight coverage for a 19-yard score.

In the third quarter, with Washington holding a precarious 24-17 lead, Gordon struck again — leaping to snag a second interception before dragging his feet to stay in bounds.

After Pleasant fumbled on the first play of the fourth quarter, Gordon extinguished his third Golden Bear drive of the game. On fourth-and-2 from Washington’s 42-yard line, Cal quarterback Chase Garbers completed a quick pass to running back Damien Moore — but Gordon wrestled him down short of the sticks.

In all, Gordon led the Huskies with 10 tackles along with the two picks.

And yet, the Huskies still missed McDuffie — and Cal quarterback Chase Garbers completed 25 of 36 passes for 267 yards with two touchdowns, two interceptions and a rushing score, repeatedly exposing walk-on cornerback starter Mishael Powell.

Without Otton, sophomore Devin Culp — who dropped a wide-open touchdown against Arkansas State — made the most of his second career start, posting five catches (on six targets) for 81 yards. Following Gordon’s first interception, on fourth-and-2 from Cal’s 28-yard line, Morris found Culp over the middle for an eight-yard gain to move the chains. The 6-4, 250-pound target from Spokane added receptions of 27 and 26 yards in the next two drives as well — barreling down the seam of the Golden Bear defense.

On Saturday, the Huskies who played mattered more (for a while) than the ones that were missing. Morris, for example, completed 19 of 34 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns — flourishing early, then fading late.

McMillan — who missed the Montana game with a hand injury, before breaking out with 10 catches for 175 yards and a touchdown against Arkansas State — added a six-yard score early in the second quarter. And Rome Odunze — his fellow second-year freshman, who missed UW’s first three games with an injury — recorded three catches for 56 yards as well.

McGrew — who missed the Montana and Michigan losses, because the Husky coaches decided he didn’t deserve to play — made his first start of the season, and took a direct snap into the end zone for a five-yard score with 1:27 left in the first half. The sixth-year senior finished with 53 rushing yards, 3.3 yards per carry and a pair of critical touchdowns.

When it mattered most, McGrew didn’t miss.

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