Washington defensive back Taylor Rapp was bent over, staring at the goal line that Oregon running back CJ Verdell had just crossed to score the game-winning touchdown.
While Ducks players jumped and yelled and piled on top of each other in the back of the end zone, Rapp seemed to be frozen in that spot. Other UW players lingered around him, many standing with their hands on their hips as they watched Oregon celebrate its 30-27 overtime victory at Autzen Stadium.
Teammates and assistant coaches approached Rapp, encouraging him to stand straight. Then, just as Oregon’s students began trickling out of the stands to join their team’s celebration, Rapp and the last UW players turned and headed toward the tunnel.
The more fans that poured onto the field, the harder it was to believe that just moments before, the Huskies nearly had the game won.
Late in the fourth quarter, with the score tied 24-24, the Huskies’ defense stopped a promising Oregon drive at the UW 36-yard line.
The Huskies took over with 5:05 left in the game and put together a nearly flawless offensive series. Jake Browning went 4-for-4, including a 22-yard pass to tight end Drew Sample and a 14-yard pass to Andre Baccellia. And even with Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed watching from the sideline — both were injured in the game — the Huskies were strong on the ground with Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant.
The drive set up a 37-yard Peyton Henry field goal attempt. Oregon called two timeouts in an attempt to ice Henry, but he got the kick off both times anyway.
He missed the first.
He made the second.
But one more, the one that counted, went wide right.
“The kids are playing hard,” UW coach Chris Petersen said. “It’s going to go down to that. I feel bad for Peyton. That’s a lot of pressure for anyone, let alone a young guy.
“I wish they wouldn’t have had as many timeouts to keep doing that. Peyton is a hard-working guy. He’s made a lot of field goals in his short career. He will be back and he will be better.”
Before the missed field goal, UW emerged from a timeout with a 2nd-and-2 from Oregon’s 21-yard line. With 43 seconds left, the Huskies didn’t try for the touchdown. Instead, they ran McGrew to set up Henry with an attempt from the right-middle hash. Instead of running a play on 3rd-and-1, the Huskies ran down the clock.
“We thought we might get one more play and we didn’t quite have a play that we liked,” Petersen said. “It’s definitely within Peyton’s range and he had the wind at his back, so we thought we’d win it right there.”
Everything about UW’s late drive seemed to be setting up an ideal ending for the Huskies.. But as Henry’s kick passed by the goal post, the Autzen Stadium crowd erupted with a roar and the momentum swung firmly back in Oregon’s favor.
Even so, Sample said the Huskies were prepared for the field goal attempt to go either way.
“When he’s going to kick it,” Sample said. “We’re ready to win the game and we’re ready to go into overtime. Our mentality is always just trying to attack what the game gives us.”
When UW’s offensive possession started in overtime, it seemed like the Huskies were going to do just that.
On the first play, Pleasant rushed 19 yards to the Oregon 6-yard line. Pleasant gained another 3 yards on the next play. But then McGrew rushed for no gain and Browning’s fade to Ty Jones in the end zone sailed over his head.
“We work on that stuff all the time in practice,” said center Nick Harris. “We do drills like that, overtime type of drills. We’re pretty used to it. We tried to execute and we just didn’t get it done at the end. I’m proud of how we fought. That’s a good opponent across from us. A hard-fought game.”
After Browning’s incomplete pass, Henry came back on for a field goal attempt, making the 22-yard shot. But it didn’t matter. Oregon’s offense took 6 plays to end the game, scoring on Verdell’s 6-yard rush.
“Try to finish the game out,” Sample said of UW’s mentality at the start of overtime. “We obviously wanted to try and go score. We had the good first play and then we kind of stalled out. We definitely want to finish better than that.”
While UW had just moments to reset after watching Henry miss the field goal, Harris said there wasn’t any disappointment to shake off before they returned to the field.
“It’s part of the game,” Harris said. “Sometimes it doesn’t go your way, you got to strap up the boots and reload. We were ready to reload. We just didn’t finish how we wanted to.”
The Huskies were in the right mindset, Browning said.
“It was just, ‘Let’s go get this done,’” he sad. “I don’t think we really let stuff fluster us. It was, ‘Let’s go get this next one and that was pretty much it.’”
The loss was a death-blow to the Huskies’ College Football Playoff hopes. And now four teams in the Pac-12 North have a single conference loss: UW (3-1), Stanford (2-1), Washington State (2-1) and Oregon (2-1).
“We’re not really worried about everyone else’s record and everyone else’s stuff,” Harris said. “We won’t hold onto this for too long. We’ll go in tomorrow and talk about the mistakes we made and then we’ll reload.”
UW doesn’t have time to dwell as a tough stretch of the schedule continues on Saturday against No. 19 Colorado at Husky Stadium. The Huskies will then travel to Cal before returning home to face Stanford.
While the loss won’t be an easy one to swallow, Sample said UW will handle it like it always does.
“We got to look at the tape, see where we can clean things up, see where we can get better and then we’re playing a good team next week,” he said. “There’s no weeks off, especially in the Pac-12. We got to learn what we can and then move on and prepare for the next game.”