EUGENE, Ore. — Washington’s offense looked right at home inside Autzen Stadium.
Coach 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 to the road team’s comfort inside notoriously unfriendly confines.
But UW’s offense — outside of one untimely turnover — spoke loudly enough in Saturday’s stunning 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 overtime loss in 2018 — drilled a 43-yarder with 35 seconds left to down the No. 6 Ducks on Saturday.
“That (2018 Oregon miss) is always in the back of the mind, especially because when people think of me, they think of that kick,” Henry said late Saturday, as fans bellowed “Let’s go Huskies!” chants outside the stadium. “So hopefully they remember me for this kick.”
Michael Penix Jr. also produced a performance Washington fans won’t soon forget — completing 26 of 35 passes (74.3%) for 408 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, outdueling elusive Oregon quarterback Bo Nix.
“Even at the hotel, he was just locked in on another level,” DeBoer said of his redshirt junior quarterback. “When you put in a great week of practice and that intensity and that focus is as high as it was for Mike — and really the whole team — that’s why special things happen. You have to give extraordinary effort all week in the preparation, and he did that.”
UW’s offense was special, right from the start. After Washington won the coin toss and elected to receive for the first time all season, Penix and Co. produced a 12-play, 75-yard drive — thanks to a critical third-down conversion. 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.
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.
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-two from the 8 to end the first quarter, and a catch for no gain on third-and-four 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, Nix initially split out wide — teasing a trick play — before lining up under center. On third-and-one from the Husky 4, the senior signal caller fumbled the ensuing snap, and it was kicked forward, before linebacker 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, 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 59 yards and 6.6 yards per carry on the ground.
But after trailing 13-10 to start the second half, Nix’s arm cut UW even deeper.
The 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. Nix 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, Nix 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.
“That was (offensive coordinator Ryan) Grubb. I can’t even lie,” Penix said of the pass to Polk. “That was a look play. We look to the sideline and he called that play in after he saw we got the look that we wanted. I saw it, too, so I already knew. I was ready to go celebrate.”
But trailing 31-27, the celebration abruptly stopped.
Penix 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-five 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-three 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-seven 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.
“It was just a go route on the outside, and an out route. I’ve just got to read the corner,” Penix explained. “If the corner bit down on the out route, I’m throwing the go route. That’s all it was. I threw a hole shot. I knew they were trying to go with a little cover-2 look. The safety couldn’t get over there, so I was like, ‘OK!’”
With true freshman quarterback Ty Thompson in for Nix, the Ducks were unable to answer. Oregon went for it on fourth-and-one 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.
“We got the stop on fourth down and I knew it was going to come down to a field goal at the very least,” Henry said. “I didn’t know the distance, but I was going to be ready regardless. I believe everything happens for a reason, so I’m glad it came full circle and we could win the game tonight.”
Nix — who completed 19 of 27 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns — re-entered in time for the Ducks to mount a desperation drive. On first-and-10 from the Husky 38 with six seconds left, he appeared to find wide receiver Troy Franklin for 15 yards — but a controversial illegal touching penalty on Franklin negated the play. Oregon’s Hail Mary as time expired fell incomplete.
At which point, in their home away from home, the Huskies threw an impromptu house party. Tight end Devin Culp did imaginary snow angels on the “O” at midfield. Athletic director Jen Cohen shouted “Go Dawgs!” into the rapidly emptying stands. Wide receiver Jalen McMillan sprinted from one end zone to the other, an undaunted and delirious Dawg.
“Man, it’s a feeling you can’t describe,” said McMillan, who led the Huskies with eight catches for 122 yards. “We’ve been through so much as a team and as a brotherhood. So this ‘W’ means everything to us. We’ve been working for this forever.”
That’s how long Husky fans are likely to remember it for.
“It means so much, because I’m giving our players a great experience,” DeBoer said. “They’re going to be talking about this 10, 20, 30 years down the road. Hopefully Husky Nation is, too.”