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University of Washington Huskies Football

No. 7 Huskies find way to finish in 36-33 win over No. 8 Oregon

Washington receiver Rome Odunze celebrates as fans storm the field after a win over the Oregon Ducks on Saturday at Husky Stadium in Seattle.  (Getty Images)
By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

SEATTLE – As fans hugged and swayed and sang Prince’s “Purple Reign” inside Husky Stadium, Michael Penix Jr. stood alone in the northwest tunnel — awaiting the cavalry.

Seattle’s adopted son positioned himself outside of the locker room, high-fiving every player who passed; he was a one-man welcoming crew.

In the wake of No. 7 Washington’s 36-33 win over No. 8 Oregon (5-1) on Saturday, that tunnel was host to an impromptu party. Under a purple tint emanating from the ceiling lights, former Husky wide receiver Dante Pettis passed by. New UW Athletic Director Troy Dannen stopped to hug and pose for pictures with his quarterback, wearing a purple pullover.

Penix — who completed 22 of 37 passes for 302 yards with four touchdowns and an interception — distributed hugs and highlights in equal measure. UW coach Kalen DeBoer’s wife, Nicole, got a hug. The sixth-year senior’s family — decked out in identical purple Penix jerseys — got hugs, high-fives and photographs. One fan took a picture with Penix and wide receiver Rome Odunze, then retreated while exclaiming, “I’m gonna cry! Stop, I’m gonna cry!”

On the ceiling above said tunnel, two words are printed in tiny type, a Montlake mantra:

FINISH STRONG

The Huskies did that in last season’s 37-34 upset win at Oregon.

On Saturday, they produced a sequel.

“Man, there’s nothing more special as a football coach than to see these guys enjoying that moment we just had out there. They’re going to remember this forever,” DeBoer said. “These games are huge. (At) reunions — and whatever happens the rest of the season, that’ll add to it — but they’re going to be talking about the 2022 game, the 2023 game.

“(There was a prior question about), did it feel like last year? It felt exactly like last year. I was thinking the exact same thing on the field. That’s one of the things that actually kept me feeling like, ‘Keep fighting. Keep fighting.’ Because those are the experiences we’ve been through together. I know how these guys are going to respond.”

It took a series of responses and Camden Lewis’ missed 43-yard field-goal attempt at the end to down the Ducks. Trailing 29-18 in the second half, Oregon produced back-to-back touchdowns — a 30-yard pass from Bo Nix to wide receiver Troy Franklin, followed by a tackle-busting 10-yard Jordan James touchdown run — to retake the lead. The Ducks then stuffed the Huskies on four consecutive goal-line runs, culminating in a fourth-and-goal stop of true freshman running back Tybo Rogers on the 1-yard line.

Penix — who was also battling stomach cramps — sprinted off the field trailing 33-29 with 6:33 left.

Still, the sixth-year senior was undaunted by the deficit.

Why? He’d climbed a similar mountain the year before.

“After not making the fourth down, I was talking to (backup quarterback) Dylan Morris and I was like, ‘Dang, this is just like last year,’ ” Penix said. “I threw the pick (in the end zone against Oregon in 2022) for the go-ahead score and we had to come back and score again. I was like, ‘We’re in the same situation as last year. Once we get the ball, we’re going to make the play and we’re going to go out there and win the game.’ ”

Spoiler alert.

For a second consecutive season, the Ducks were stuffed on fourth down to open the door — as Nix whipped a pass wide of target Tez Johnson on fourth-and-3. Penix took over on his 47-yard line with 2:11 left.

He wouldn’t need that much time. It took just two plays to revisit a familiar script — as Penix hit wide receiver Ja’Lynn Polk between defenders for a 35-yard gain, then looked left and sent a back-shoulder sizzler to Odunze for the go-ahead 18-yard score. “My recall is a little shaky right now. I’ve got a lot of adrenaline running through my veins,” Odunze said about the play. “That was a check play [audible]. Me and Penix connected on that. He gave me the head nod to do what I needed to do. He threw it up, gave me a shot, believed in me, like he was [doing] all night. I’m grateful I made a play for this team.”

Odunze made more than one. Two weeks after sustaining a rib injury in the closing moments of Washington’s road win at Arizona, the junior receiver posted eight catches for 128 yards and two touchdowns.

“It was man-on-man, my guy versus their guy,” Penix said of the go-ahead score. “I’m going to take my guy every time. Rome shows every day why he’s the top receiver in the nation.”

Some days just matter more.

And a year after UW kicker Peyton Henry delivered a 43-yard field goal to down the Ducks, the sequel provided a punishing wrinkle. This time, Oregon senior Camden Lewis’ identical 43-yard try to tie the game snuck right as time expired.

“Man, honestly it was a crazy similar feeling that was going on [compared to last year’s game],” a head-shaking Odunze said. “It was so similar to what was going on there. That gave me the confidence that it was going to be just like last year.”

Not identical, but close enough.

This time, Polk reeled in six catches for 118 yards and a touchdown, after standout wide receiver Jalen McMillan exited early with a reaggravated leg injury. Mississippi State transfer running back Dillon Johnson chiseled out 100 rushing yards, five yards per carry and a score. Sixth-year senior linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio contributed a team-high 11 tackles and a sack. And after Oregon went 0-for-3 on fourth down — including two dead drives inside the 10-yard line — Ducks coach Dan Lanning said “this game is 100% on me.”

Regardless of who deserves credit or blame, there was euphoria both on the field and in the tunnel. UW associate head coach and wide receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard repeatedly shouted, “Woooo! How ‘bout that, y’all?” In the locker room, DeBoer bellowed, “We are built for this! Built for this! Every second, every minute, we are built for this. What do you do? You hit ‘em from the left. You hit ‘em from the right.”

He punched the sky with a growing grin, then sprayed water in a merry mosh pit of coaches and players.

As Penix sat at the podium, an exiting Odunze informed media members, “Hey, you’re looking at the Heisman Trophy winner right there.”

Not every sequel, after all, calls for an identical ending.

Washington wants something more.