As we approach the start of the 2018 season — 48 days and counting! — it’s worth considering the state of the Washington Huskies football program. With Chris Petersen at the helm, the Dawgs have reclaimed their role as an annual Pac-12 contender, winning the conference in 2016 along with earning the Pac-12’s second berth in the College Football Playoff. In the last three seasons, Washington has posted a 29–11 record while outscoring opponents by an average score of 36.3 to 17.5, while players like John Ross, Budda Baker, Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin and Vita Vea have made themselves household names to fans of college football across the country.
Suffice to say that 10 years ago, in July 2008, Washington fans cheered for a program that had a slightly different outlook.
After three years of Tyrone Willingham’s misrule, the Husky faithful had been battered with watching their favored program compile an 11–25 record, arguably the team’s worst three-year stretch in the post-World War II era. In the 36 games Washington played from 2005 to 2007, the Dawgs were outscored at an average clip of 23.8 to 39.4, and the spectre of an 0–12 season — the absolute nadir of any team in the conference’s history, then or since — awaited them in 2008.
All this is to say that in the years since the Husky program hit rock-bottom in 2008, Washington fans have had much more to cheer for than they did in the years preceding that awful season. Thanks to the magical platform that is YouTube, I present to you below my incredibly unscientific gathering of Washington’s best plays since 2009.
2009, versus USC — Jake Locker’s fourth-quarter completion to Jermaine Kearse
One week after snapping a 15-game losing streak, virtually no one gave the Huskies a chance to continue their winning ways against No. 3 USC, who had just knocked off the No. 8 Ohio State Buckeyes at the Horseshoe the week prior. But thanks to a confluence of factors — Steve Sarkisian’s familiarity with Pete Carroll’s program, Matt Barkley’s injury that kept him from playing, and Jake Locker’s characteristically gutsy play — the Huskies were able to score their biggest upset in 27 years. While I was initially tempted to single out Erik Folk’s 22-yard game-winning field goal, it bears mentioning that the only reason he was in such gimme-range was Locker’s 19-yard pass to Jermaine Kearse with 33 seconds left to play in regulation. Without that clutch play, Folk could have been looking at a field goal attempt from 45 yards or thereabouts, and we might therefore today be talking about a very different outcome to that game.
2009, versus Arizona — Mason Foster’s immaculate interception
Long before he became the MVP of Super Bowl LII, Huskies fans knew Nick Foles best as the quarterback who threw one of the most improbable interceptions ever witnessed on the shores of Montlake. On the first play from scrimmage after Jake Locker connected with Kavario Middleton on a touchdown pass to pull the Huskies within five points with under three minutes left in regulation, Foles’ check-down pass took the most fortuitous bounce imaginable off of wide receiver Terrence Miller’s foot, and directly into the arms of Washington linebacker Mason Foster, who turned and made an immediate beeline toward the corner of the end zone. Huskies and Wildcats fans argue to this day about whether or not Foles’ pass hit the ground, but on that day with Husky Stadium shaking from its foundation to its roof, there was just no way that the call would go against the Dawgs.
2010, at Cal — God’s play
On the morning of Nov. 27, 2010, Steve Sarkisian’s first two seasons as Washington’s head coach could best be described as one of extreme ups and downs. While Huskies fans had experienced the highs of consecutive victories over USC and a shutout victory in the Apple Cup, so too had they suffered through a 56–21 home embarrassment to Nebraska, a streak of six losses in seven games in 2009, and a series of three blowout losses to ranked Arizona, Stanford and Oregon teams that put their 2010 bowl hopes on life support. So when Sarkisian found his team one yard from paydirt, trailing the Golden Bears 10–13 with two seconds left on the clock and needing a win to keep their postseason dreams alive, he declined to kick the chip-shot field goal and instead put his faith in his offense to go earn the win on one final play. The result was the appropriately named God’s Play, a power run to the right side that cleared a path for Chris Polk to the end zone, and eventually, a Holiday Bowl rematch victory over the Cornhuskers.
2011 Alamo Bowl, versus Baylor — Keith Price’s pump-fake
When Washington and Baylor met in the 2011, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to predict a high-scoring affair: After all, the Huskies and Bears ended the season with the nation’s No. 38 and 2 offenses alongside the No. 106 and 116 defenses, respectively. But even the most committed fans of basketball-on-grass-style football were taken aback by the game, which culminated with 17 touchdowns, 1,397 yards of offense and the ignominious end of Nick Holt’s time as UW’s defensive coordinator. Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III earned the lion’s share of media focus in the lead-up to the game, but sophomore Keith Price, in his first year as Washington’s starting quarterback, became the star of the show when he turned in one of the best plays of Washington’s season. After scrambling and pump-faking two Baylor defenders out of their shoes, Price threaded his way into the end zone in a play that represented the best of Washington’s dynamic 2011 offense.
2012, versus Stanford — Bishop Sankey goes the distance
After the 2009 Huskies beat No. 3 USC at Husky Stadium, the Dawgs went on a disappointing 4–11 run against ranked opponents, including an 0–4 mark against top-10 teams in the lead-up to this game. However, with Husky Stadium closed for renovations, the Washington faithful made CenturyLink Field come alive on a Thursday night when the Dawgs held the Stanford offense to just 238 yards and 13 points. Though Kasen Williams’ bubble-screen touchdown is arguably the game’s more impactful play, seeing how it provided the Dawgs with the game’s deciding points, Sankey’s long run gets my nod here for one simple reason: I was at the game, and I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a crowd erupt the way it did when Bishop juked Stanford’s safety and had nothing but green grass between him and the end zone.
2014, at Cal — Shaq Thompson’s 100-yard scoop-and-score
The final game in Washington’s six-game winning streak spanning the 2009 to 2014 seasons against Cal included one of the longest defensive scoring plays in the history of Husky football. With Jared Goff under center attempting a quarterback sneak at the 1-yard line, the ball popped out from his possession and into the waiting arms of Shaq Thompson, the former Cal commit and Golden Bear legacy whose career at Washington to this day brings curses to the lips of our friends over at California Golden Blogs. Shaq’s return spanning the length of the field utterly demoralized the Cal offense, which didn’t put points on the board until nearly the end of the third quarter.
2016, versus Stanford — Joe Mathis brings the bull rush
Joe Mathis registered five sacks for the Huskies in 2016, including two against Stanford, yet I find myself more impressed by this play than just about any other by the Husky defense that season. For close to a decade going back to Jim Harbaugh’s first season in 2007, Stanford represented the gold standard of physicality in the Pac-12 (and perhaps the nation), as no program committed to the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust-style of football more than the Cardinal. All that changed, however, on a Friday night in September 2016, when the Dawgs dominated the Cardinal in a top-10 match-up at Husky Stadium to the tune of a 44-6 final score. The above play of Mathis knocking Stanford right tackle Casey Tucker flat onto his rear was important in the sense that it kept the Cardinal from converting an early third-down, but it also resonated on a much more visceral level with the rabid Husky crowd, who sensed that the balance of power in the Pac-12 North had finally shifted to Seattle.
2016, at Oregon — Jake Browning points the way forward
It may have cost him 500 push-ups to do so, but it’s hard to imagine that Jake Browning doesn’t regard the iconic image of him delivering one of the single greatest taunts in the history of Husky football as being worth every bit the price that he paid. In one swift motion, Browning channelled the volcano of frustration that Huskies fans felt from a dozen consecutive losses to the Oregon Ducks, and set the tone for Washington’s 70-21 victory that at one point included six consecutive Husky touchdown drives.
2016, at Utah — Dante Pettis makes Utah pay
Wins on the road wins against ranked conference opponents are never a foregone conclusion, least of all when they come against Kyle Whittingham’s Utah Utes in the elevation of Salt Lake City. It’s even more difficult when the opposing team has an All American punter in the form of Mitch Wishnowsky, whose booming leg gave the Huskies an average starting position at the 13-yard line on their drives following Utah punts. Within four minutes to play, however, Dante Pettis turned Utah’s potent weapon against them when Wishnowsky outkicked his coverage, giving Pettis just enough room to find a channel through which he snaked his way into the end zone and scored the game’s deciding points.
2016, at Cal — John Ross bobs and weaves his way to paydirt
I’ll bet you weren’t expecting to have to scroll down this far to find a highlight of the fastest man to play college football, were you?
All the same, Ross’ jaw-dropping touchdown catch against the Golden Bears encapsulates everything we loved about watching the 5’11” speed demon during his Washington career. Ross slows his gait to come back to the ball just enough for the Cal defensive back that he burned to catch up to him, and pushes him aside. He then ducks under the arm tackle of a second defender before darting back four yards to evade a third, then turns on the afterburners and positions Dante Pettis between himself and the nearest Cal defender to clear his path to the end zone. In the space of about seven seconds, Ross displays every facet of the “no-no-no-no-yes-yes-yes-are-you-kidding-me” type of play that made him a first-round NFL Draft selection, and endeared him to an entire generation of Dawg fans.
2016 Pac-12 Championship Game, versus Colorado — John Ross climbs the ladder
Look, it’s John again!
It should come as no surprise that the human highlight reel that is John Ross III makes his second consecutive appearance here. On the biggest stage in the Pac-12, Ross took what was essentially a throwaway pass from Jake Browning after he was nearly brought down by Colorado outside linebacker Jimmie Gilbert, jumping high in the air and snagging the ball with one hand. From there, all it took was solid downfield blocking from Dante Pettis and a slight juke to give Ross a clear path to the end zone, resulting in a 24-point Huskies advantage in the conference championship game.
2017, versus Oregon — Dante Pettis owns the record
“We are going to punt the ball and we are going to cover and we are going to tackle.” So said then-Oregon coach Willie Taggart on his approach to kicking the ball to Dante Pettis, who was then the co-owner of the career punt returns for touchdowns record, with eight.
We all know how he got the ninth.
There are a number of factors that immediately shot this touchdown into the pantheon of great plays in Husky football history. First, it broke open an early 3–3 stalemate in a rivalry game. Second, it allowed Pettis to etch his name into the record books as the only player in FBS history with nine career punt returns for touchdowns. Third, it came at the expense of the program’s most hated rival, in the wake of that team’s coach boasting to the media that the Ducks had nothing to fear in kicking to Pettis.
To quote the Bard, “revenge should have no bounds.” On a brisk November evening in 2017, Dante made damn well sure that his did not.
- Erik Folk kicks the game-winning field goal versus USC, 2009
- Jake Locker completes an 18-yard pass to D’Andre Goodwin on 4th-and-10 at USC, 2010
- Erik Folk kicks the game-winning field goal at USC, 2010
- Kasen Williams scores on a bubble screen versus Stanford, 2012
- Sidney Jones’ 69-yard pick-six versus Washington State, 2015
- Budda Baker picks off Justin Herbert’s first pass at Oregon, 2016
- Myles Gaskin’s 65-yard touchdown run at Oregon, 2016
- Jake Browning’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Dante Pettis versus Alabama, 2016