The No. 4 Washington Huskies hadn’t been tested like this.
They needed overtime to beat Arizona, sure, but the Wildcats never led in the second half. So when the No. 17-ranked Utah Utes began Saturday’s second half at Rice-Eccles Stadium with a go-ahead touchdown drive, it put UW in an unfamiar position through its first seven games.
Tense times did not subside, even after UW scored right away to take the lead and later added a field goal. Utah later added a game-tying touchdown.
But then the Utes punted to Dante Pettis, and UW’s star receiver changed the game with one return.
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Pettis returned a punt 58 yards for a touchdown with 3:25 to play, the decisive score in Washington’s grinder of a 31-24 victory before a sellout crowd of 47,801. The Huskies remained unbeaten at 8-0 and 5-0 in Pac-12 play and kept alive their contention for a College Football Playoff berth.
Utah drove to Washington’s 35-yard line in the final minute, but quarterback Troy Williams threw incomplete on 4th and 15 and the Huskies held on.
It looked like another UW blowout early. The Huskies scored first when Myles Gaskin cut outside for a 10-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, and made it 14-0 on Jake Browning’s 16-yard touchdown pass to John Ross early in the second — a score that capped an eight-play, 95-yard touchdown drive.
The Huskies got the ball back a little more than two minutes later, still leading by two touchdowns. But on 3rd-and-9 from their own 27-yard line, sophomore quarterback Jake Browning tried a deep throw over the middle that was intercepted by Utah safety Chase Hansen and returned to the Huskies’ 19-yard line.
UW appeared to have the Utes stopped when quarterback Troy Williams was tackled for a 2-yard loss on a 3rd-and-goal play from the Huskies’ 1-yard line. But linebacker Azeem Victor was penalized for taunting Williams after the play, and Joe Williams scored on a 2-yard touchdown run two plays later.
Victor pleaded his case on the sideline with UW coach Chris Petersen, who shook his head in disgust.
Joe Williams, the Utah running back who retired earlier this season before returning to the team three weeks ago, rushed for 110 yards in the first half on 18 carries, and finished with 172 and one score. His presence kept Utah in the game; Troy Williams, the former UW quarterback who spent this week vowing revenge against the coaching staff that he felt didn’t want him, was a non-factor. He completed only 5 of his 15 pass attempts in the first half despite a UW pass rush that failed to generate much pressure.
Troy Williams finished 14-for-31 for 163 yards passing with two touchdowns.
A 29-yard field goal by Andy Phillips cut UW’s lead to 14-10 as the first-half clock expired.
Utah took the lead on Troy Williams’ 6-yard touchdown pass to Siaosi Wilson with 8:17 left in the third quarter, capping a 13-play, 75-yard scoring drive.
The Huskies responded quickly. Gaskin gashed for gains of 19, 16 and 26 yards before Browning found Ross for a 5-yard touchdown pass. And after a Utah punt, the Huskies took a 24-17 lead with a 41-yard field goal by Cameron Van Winkle.
But Troy Williams wasn’t done. After a roughing the passer penalty against Psalm Wooching nullified a third-down stop, Williams threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to tight end Evan Moeai to tie the score with 9:07 remaining.
The Huskies punted after driving into Utah territory. Browning’s pooch kick pinned Utah at its 1-yard line, and the Utes went three-and-out before punting from their own 3.
Pettis caught the kick, escaped a few early tackle attempts and cruised untouched up the right sideline for the fifth punt-return touchdown of his career.
It was, by far, his most important.