There was a missed field goal to end the first half, and another in the fourth quarter. There was an interception at the 1-yard line that killed a promising drive just minutes prior. A failed 4th-and-1 run that killed a clock-chewing drive in the third quarter. A game-tying touchdown by the Arizona Wildcats with 17 seconds to play.
Come on. This is Washington playing a football game in the desert. What did you expect?
And yet despite their dubious history in this state -- and a white-knuckle fourth quarter that produced three touchdowns in the final five minutes -- the Huskies will not have to reflect upon Saturday night’s Pac-12 opener at Arizona and wonder what could have been. Not this time, even in this city where they had not won in a decade.
It required an extra period and a career game by tailback Lavon Coleman and, finally, a defensive stop with the game on the line. But the Huskies eventually beat the Wildcats on Saturday night, 35-28, after quarterback Jake Browning threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Dante Pettis in overtime and the Huskies stopped Arizona on its ensuing possession.
A 4th-and-10 incompletion thrown by Arizona quarterback Brandon Dawkins sealed it. And set up a collosal matchup on Friday at Husky Stadium, where the No. 9-ranked Huskies will host No. 7-ranked Stanford in a battle of Pac-12 North unbeatens.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do in six days,” UW coach Chris Petersen said.
Coleman set up UW’s final touchdown with a 24-yard run on the first play of overtime, capping an 11-carry, 188-yard performance that also included a go-ahead, 55-yard touchdown run with 3:15 to play in regulation.
As a team, the Huskies rushed for 352 yards on 51 carries, and totaled 512 yards of offense and 7.1 yards per play.
“Seattle media has been freaking out about our run game,” said Browning, who completed 14 of 21 pass attempts for 160 yards, “so I think we feel pretty good about it now.”
It shouldn’t have been this hard, though. The Huskies took a 21-14 lead with a 7-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to begin the third quarter, continuing what was a relatively impressive offensive output in the first half.
But given several chances to seize control in the second half, they simply could not.
After grinding out 67 yards on 14 plays – 12 of them rushes – tailback Myles Gaskin was stuffed on a 4th-and-1 carry at Arizona’s 28-yard line with 10:21 left in the third quarter.
After driving to Arizona’s 25-yard line on their next possession, Browning threw an interception to Arizona defensive back Dane Cruikshank at the Wildcats’ 1-yard line.
After Arizona fumbled back to UW at the Wildcats’ 22-yard line – one of three UA turnovers – Cameron Van Winkle pushed a 40-yard field goal wide right, his second miss of the game.
The Huskies forced another punt. They again couldn’t score, punting back to Arizona with 6:44 to play, again giving the speedy Dawkins a chance to gash them.
He did, sprinting for a 56-yard gain on 3rd-and-7, and he scored on a 2-yard run two plays later to tie the score with 4:45 to play.
But the Huskies responded quickly, Coleman taking a handoff, ripping through a hole on the left side and sprinting 55 yards for the go-ahead score.
“He’s a downhill runner. His vision looked good. He’ll break arm tackles,” Petersen said. “We’re proud of how he ran.”
But … on 2nd and 25 from Arizona’s 32-yard line, Dawkins somehow escaped pressure from UW nose tackle Vita Vea and chucked a deep pass that receiver Shun Brown caught before stumbling to UW’s 14-yard line.
It was a 54-yard gain, and it gave the Wildcats a chance to even the score in the final seconds. Which they did, on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Dawkins to tight end Josh Kern with 17 seconds to play, one snap after Dawkins converted a 4th-and-3 with a 4-yard pass to Nate Phillips.
The Huskies had trouble corralling Dawkins all night. Say the same for tailback J.J. Taylor. The two combined for 192 yards rushing on 21 attempts in the first half, an effort highlighted by Dawkins’ 79-yard sojourn up the right sideline for a touchdown in the second quarter. He finished with 176 yards rushing on 13 attempts.
“You would think you’d have him contained and squeeze the pocket. We planned for that,” said UW defensive lineman Elijah Qualls. “But like, you can plan all you want for football, but when the game starts, it don’t go as we planned. He got out a few times and he made plays. Dude’s a great athlete, he really is.”
Taylor, a 5-foot-6 freshman, darted between holes and took advantage of a UW defensive line that struggled to knock UA’s offensive linemen backward. He scored a touchdown on Arizona’s opening drive, a 15-play, 75-yard trek that culminated with Taylor’s 1-yard carry. He finished with 97 yards on 19 carries before departing due to injury; UA coach Rich Rodriguez said after the game that Taylor has a broken ankle.
It was actually a Taylor rush that allowed UW to steady itself early in the second quarter. The Wildcats drove to UW’s 2-yard line with a 4th-and-goal. They opted to go for it. Qualls met Taylor in the backfield, stuffing him for a loss of a yard and thwarting another effective Arizona drive.
“That could have been the difference,” Qualls said. “They could have had that touchdown and we wouldn’t have been playing in overtime. If everything went the same exact way besides that play, they would have had seven more points and this would have been a whole different type of interview and everything else.”
Eight plays later, UW receiver John Ross took a reverse pitch and, aided by a crunching block from Browning – seriously, he walloped the dude – Ross scooted 32 yards up the right sideline for a game-tying touchdown.
After Dawkins gave Arizona the lead with his 79-yard run – linebacker Psalm Wooching appeared to have him stopped, but he couldn’t bring him down – Browning capped a 7-play, 75-yard drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Ross.
There were missed opportunities, too. After Arizona fumbled a punt and UW recovered at the UA 21-yard line with 1:50 left in the first half, the Huskies went backward and settled for a 45-yard field-goal try as time expired. Van Winkle banged it off the left upright, no good. And that was after Arizona, moving the ball at will on the ground, inexplicably threw a deep pass that was intercepted by UW senior cornerback Kevin King.
But the Huskies held on, something they failed to do when faced with similar circumstances a year ago.
“We can talk about our red-zone offense, we can talk about our short-yardage offense. Probably need a month to clean up all these things that we need to improve on,” Petersen said. “But I’m really proud of how these kids responded, and just kept fighting.”
EXTRA POINTS: Junior receiver Brayden Lenius, who was suspended for the first three games of the season, was eligible to return to action this week but did not make the trip to Tucson. ... Third-year sophomore defensive lineman Jaylen Johnson made his 2016 debut after missing the first three games due to injury, and redshirt freshman cornerback Auston Joyner played for the first time since sustaining an injury in UW’s season opener.