Penix leads Washington to thrilling win over Oregon in final Pac-12 title game
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Washington went into what likely was the last Pac-12 Championship living on the edge, and of course the Huskies were going to do it again Friday night.
They blew a 17-point lead, watched Oregon go ahead by four and immediately responded with the drive of the game.
And now the third-ranked Huskies not only are the Pac-12 champions, they secured a spot in the College Football Playoff with a 34-31 victory over No. 5 Oregon.
Washington didn’t panic when pressed in the second half, having closed the regular season by winning three consecutive one-possession games by a combined 12 points. Oregon entered with a six-game winning streak, five of them decided by double digits.
“The love and trust we have on our team is unmatched,” said Washington’s Michael Penix Jr., the game MVP after passing for 319 yards and a touchdown. “We’ve been doing it each and every week. We’re not going to say we want those games to be close.”
The game was likely the final Pac-12 Championship given 10 of the 12 teams will be playing in different conferences next season. Only Oregon State and Washington State will remain as they try to find a way to keep the tradition-rich conference together in some form.
Washington (13-0) was the last Pac-12 team to make the CFP — in the 2016 season.
The Huskies, who were 9 1/2-point underdogs, scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to take a 34-24 lead. Oregon (11-2) scored a late touchdown for the final score, but failed to recover the onside kick that all but ended its chances.
“That one hurts,” Ducks coach Dan Lanning said. “In a four-quarter fight, you can’t start out slow against a really good team.”
Dillon Johnson ran for 152 yards and two TDs for the Huskies. Two Washington receivers had more than 100 yards — Jalen McMillan (nine receptions for 131 yards) and Biletnikoff finalist Rome Odunze (eight for 102) who was returning to his hometown.
Oregon’s Bo Nix, the favorite entering the game to win the Heisman Trophy according to FanDuel Sportsbook, passed for 239 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 69 yards.
“It’s a lot of emotions, a lot going on that maybe you wish you could change,” Nix said. “That’s what is the good and bad about any kind of competition is there has to be a loser. As bad as it feels, that’s why you play the game.”
If it was indeed the final title game for the conference, it was quite a way to go out as Oregon and Washington again played a high-scoring game with big plays throughout. The Huskies won the regular-season meeting, 36-33 in Seattle in October.
Washington took a 20-3 lead before the Ducks scored a touchdown with nine seconds left to get to within 10 points.
That score got Oregon going, converting two fourth downs on the opening drive of the second, including a 2-yard touchdown from Nix to tight end Terrance Ferguson to get within three points. The Ducks took the lead at 24-20 with 1:51 left in the third quarter on Jordan James’ 6-yard TD run.
The lead didn’t last long as Washington scored on its next drive to take the lead for good.
Penix completed a 31-yard pass to McMillan to Oregon’s 20, helping set up Johnson’s 1-yard run up the middle for the touchdown and 27-24 lead.
“When you’ve got (Penix) right here, you give him a chance to touch the football and make plays,” Washington coach Kalen DeBoer said. “He’s been through it all. He’s got all these experiences to draw upon and knows when to take the risk and when not to, how to put the team on his back and keep moving.”
This is the second time both teams have been ranked in the top 10 when they have played each other. The other time was the first meeting this season.
Washington improved to 3-0 in the Pac-12 Championship. Oregon fell to 4-2.
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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football