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Sports >  UW football

Michael Penix Jr. and resilient Huskies outlast No. 6 Oregon in stunning rivalry upset

Nov. 12, 2022 Updated Sat., Nov. 12, 2022 at 9:15 p.m.

Washington running back Wayne Taulapapa rushes for a first-quarter touchdown as the No. 25 Huskies face the No. 6 Oregon Ducks in a Pac-12 college football game at Autzen stadium in Eugene, Oregon on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022.  (Tribune News Service)
Washington running back Wayne Taulapapa rushes for a first-quarter touchdown as the No. 25 Huskies face the No. 6 Oregon Ducks in a Pac-12 college football game at Autzen stadium in Eugene, Oregon on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. (Tribune News Service)
By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

EUGENE – Washington’s offense looked right at home inside Autzen Stadium.

Literally, Kalen DeBoer’s team wore purple jerseys and pants – a look typically reserved for Husky home games – during the 114th meeting of Pacific Northwest rivals on Saturday. A conspiracy theorist might chalk up that choice as a silent reflection of the road team’s comfort inside notoriously unfriendly confines.

But UW’s offense – outside of one untimely turnover – spoke loudly enough in Saturday’s 37-34 upset win.

And after a four-year wait, Peyton Henry delivered redemption.

Henry – who missed a 37-yard field goal that would have sunk Oregon at the end of regulation in an eventual 30-27 loss in 2018 – drilled a 35-yard field goal with 35 seconds left to sink the Ducks.

After Washington won the coin toss and elected to receive for the first time all season, quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and the Huskies produced a 12-play, 75-yard drive – thanks to a pair of critical third-down conversions. On third-and-14 from the Husky 44-yard line, Penix took a shotgun snap, spun away from unblocked edge DJ Johnson and scrambled along the left sideline for a 15-yard gain. He hit wide receiver Rome Odunze for 11 more yards on third-and-10 three plays later.

That set up senior tailback Wayne Taulapapa, who took a handoff and squirted through a hole for a 13-yard touchdown – benefiting from blocks by right tackle Roger Rosengarten and right guard Henry Bainivalu. As Taulapapa entered the end zone, Bainivalu – a sixth-year senior – rose both massive hands high to the sky.

But UW’s opening statement preceded a pair of missed opportunities. The Huskies stalled in the red zone twice in the first half, settling for 30- and 27-yard Henry field goals. Sophomore running back Cameron Davis was stuffed in both instances – a 1-yard run on third-and-2 from the 8 to end the first quarter, and a catch for no gain on third-and-4 from the 10 late in the second.

Field goals don’t win rivalry games – particularly against the No. 6 team in the nation, as well as the No. 3 scoring offense (43.1 points per game).

But turnovers certainly help.

Speaking of costly red-zone snafus, the Ducks produced one of their own. Trailing 10-3 early in the second quarter, Oregon quarterback Bo Nix initially split out wide – teasing a trick play – before lining up under center. On third-and-1 from the Husky 4, Nix fumbled the ensuing snap, and it was kicked forward before Alphonzo Tuputala fell on it at the 1-yard line.

But when the Ducks didn’t fumble, UW’s defense could scarcely compete.

Oregon’s running game – which entered the game ranked fifth in the nation in yards per carry (5.81) and 11th in rushing (231.22) – predictably dominated UW, piling up 312 rushing yards and 6.1 yards per carry. Running back Bucky Irving tallied 143 yards on just 19 carries (7.5 yards per rush), bouncing off feeble tackle attempts. Nix streaked up the gut for a 10-yard touchdown to tie the game at 10-10 late in the second quarter, finishing with 53 yards and 7.6 yards per carry on the ground.

But after trailing 13-10 to start the second half, Nix’s arm cut UW even deeper.

The senior Auburn transfer unfurled a pair of long third-quarter touchdowns, exposing a Husky secondary that lost starting cornerback Jordan Perryman on UW’s opening defensive drive. He eluded a Bralen Trice sack long enough to loft a deep ball to wide receiver Dont’e Thornton – who had sprinted past nickel Dominique Hampton – for a 46-yard score that gave the Ducks a momentary 17-13 lead. And late in the third, he rolled right and hit wide receiver Troy Franklin – who beat true freshman corner Jaivion Green, Perryman’s replacement – for a 67-yard touchdown. Sophomore Noah Whittington tacked on a 29-yard touchdown run in between.

And yet, amid the barrage, UW’s offense continually answered. Trailing 17-13, the Huskies mounted a 10-play, 65-yard drive – culminating in a 3-yard Davis touchdown run. Trailing 24-20, Penix uncorked a ruthless rainbow that receiver Ja’Lynn Polk centered under for a 76-yard score.

But trailing 31-27, Penix finally – momentarily – blinked.

The redshirt junior quarterback capped an 11-play, 98-yard march with a colossal mistake – forcing an interception to linebacker Jeffrey Bassa on first-and-goal from the Oregon 1. The Ducks then reeled off a methodical 20-play, 91-yard, 10-minute and 33-second drive – though it ended with an ominous thud.

On third-and-5 from the 10, Nix sprinted ahead on a designed keeper and was stoned by safety Alex Cook for a 2-yard gain. The 6-foot-2, 213-pound quarterback was injured on the play – and rather than go for it on fourth-and-3 to seal the win, Oregon settled for a 26-yard field goal to extend its lead to 34-27.

It was a short-lived lead. On third-and-7 from UW’s 38-yard line, Penix reared back and found wide receiver Taj Davis sprinting along the left sideline for a stunning 62-yard score that tied the game at 34-34. Penix completed 26 of 35 passes for 408 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the win.

With true freshman quarterback Ty Thompson in for Nix, the Ducks were unable to answer. Oregon went for it on fourth-and-1 from its own 34 … and Whittington slipped to the turf for a disastrous 1-yard loss. Henry coolly connected on a 43-yard field goal four plays later, shaking his fist in the same stadium that hosted his most heart-wrenching mistake.

Nix re-entered in time for the Ducks to mount a desperation drive. On fourth-and-14 from his own 21, Nix hit Troy Franklin over the middle for 19 yards. On first-and-10 from the Husky 38 with six seconds left, he appeared to find 15 again for 15 more – but a controversial illegal touching penalty on Franklin negated the play. Oregon’s Hail Mary as time expired fell incomplete.

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