BOULDER, Colo. – Eleven years came and went without a Washington Huskies player returning a punt for a touchdown.
After a jaunt by Dante Pettis up the right sideline of Folsom Field on Saturday, that dubious streak is finally over.
Pettis, a freshman receiver, returned a punt 87 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of Washington’s 38-23 victory over Colorado on Saturday afternoon. The last Husky to return a punt for a score was Charles Frederick on Oct. 18, 2003, in a game at Oregon State.
“It was mentioned earlier in the season when we first started playing,” said Pettis, a native of San Clemente, Calif. “I’ve heard a couple fans say some things like ‘oh, break the streak.’ I know that we’d gone a long time without it.”
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Pettis had already shown promise this season. He entered Saturday’s game averaging 10.3 yards per return, one of only four players in the Pac-12 with a double-digit return average.
And when Colorado lined up to punt early in the fourth quarter, Pettis liked what he saw.
“I knew the return we had was looking pretty good for us. I saw the punter roll out and then he kicked it pretty far, so I knew there was going to be a pretty good chance. My blockers did an amazing job. It was pretty easy.”
Indeed, the ball was kicked far enough that Pettis was able to field the ball with nobody around. Reserve defensive back Hayden Schuh sealed off the first Buffaloes defender to arrive. Pettis motored up the sideline, then slowed down long enough for tight end Josh Perkins to level a clean block on the Colorado player with the best pursuit angle.
After that, Pettis accelerated past the last Buffaloes defender with a chance to catch him, sprinting untouched into the end zone.
“The guys just go all out. They really help me,” Pettis said. “I don’t really have to do much. I just run. It’s not really me. I feel like it’s all them, blocking for me.”
Saturday was also Pettis’ best day as a receiver. He caught two passes – a 48-yard throw from quarterback Cyler Miles in the first quarter, and a 28-yard touchdown pass from Miles late in the third.
“His whole thing has just been trying to learn our system, just being so new,” coach Chris Petersen said. “And when he knows what he’s doing and lines up quickly and knows, as you see, he’s very natural, very athletic to the ball, and he made plays in the special-team game, as well.”
Petersen saw that coming.
“We’ve been saying this for the last two, three weeks, that we just felt like we were close on special teams and able to change the game somehow, whether it was on punt return, kickoff return, blocking a punt – we’ve done all that,” coach Chris Petersen said. “We’ve had some penalties and some things that haven’t come through. And we’ve been preaching that all week. So it’s nice to finally come through.”
It only took 11 years.
Christian Caple can be reached at email@example.com. Twitter: @ChristianCaple