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UW seals CFP bid with victory in Pac-12 farewell

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Published in Breaking News
Saturday, 02 December 2023 06:34

LAS VEGAS -- In the final Pac-12 football game before the conference realignment wrecking ball comes, Washington put the finishing touches on one of the best conference seasons in history.

In beating No. 5 Oregon 34-31, the third-ranked Huskies became the first Pac-12 team to reach 13-0 before bowl season, punching a ticket to the College Football Playoff in the process.

"It is sad to see it happen and that be the last football game there," Washington coach Kalen DeBoer said. "But I think the other part is just understanding how strong the conference was this year.

"There were eight teams [from the Pac-12] at one point, I believe, that were ranked in the Top 25, and we played the best ones and we played one of them twice. I don't think there's anyone else in the country that's gone through what we went through."

The Huskies technically still need to wait for the selection committee to decide to include them in the four-team field Sunday, but that is only a formality. They will play in either the Rose Bowl or the Sugar Bowl with their opponent to be determined.

With Friday night's game being played in Las Vegas, it was fitting that one of the subplots coming in was the point spread. Despite carrying a 19-game winning streak and having beaten Oregon earlier in the season, the Huskies came in as a 9.5-point underdog. It didn't go unnoticed within the Washington locker room.

"I think it was 10-point underdog, which is absolutely insane," Washington running back Dillon Johnson said. "We definitely took that personal, and we knew coming into the game that we were going to win this game, and we've been preaching it all this week. We came out and got the W."

The point spread looked even less justified as Washington roared to a 20-3 first-half lead. But the Ducks didn't go quietly. After a touchdown just before the half cut the deficit to 20-10, Oregon added another touchdown drive to open the second half and took a 24-20 lead with 1:51 left in the third quarter.

At that point, it could have been time to panic for the Huskies. They did not. Instead, they retook control with back-to-back long touchdown drives of 10 and 12 plays.

"I think we just always draw on our experiences, and I mean there is a deep, deep, deep belief right now in our football team that when the moments get tough we can really hone in and guys will just do their job, not get overwhelmed and go execute," DeBoer said.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was named the game's MVP after completing 27 of 39 passes for 319 yards and a touchdown. Penix needed a big game to give himself a chance to win the Heisman Trophy, and while it's unclear if Friday's performance was enough, he will likely make the trip to New York as a finalist.

As the Huskies celebrated the victory on stage after the game, Penix's teammates made it clear where they stood on the issue, chanting: "Heisman, Heisman, Heisman."

"It is just a blessing to be able to be in that talk, but for me, always the main thing always for me was to win, and to be able to do that today on a stage like this, it is incredible," Penix said. "I'm going to always favor and savor this moment. I'm just super excited right now. I'm just really living in this moment. Whatever happens come next weekend, it is going to happen."

Johnson had a big game, rushing for 152 yards on 28 carries with a pair of scores. He was also credited with a touchdown pass that came on a short shovel pass to Germie Bernard. Rome Odunze (8 catches, 102 yards) and Jalen McMillan (9 catches, 131 yards) both went for more than 100 receiving yards.

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