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No. 4 Washington finishes perfect regular season with 24-21 win over Washington State

Final Apple Cup as part of Pac-12 is a thriller

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Washington wide receiver Rome Odunze (1) runs in a touchdown in front of Washington State defensive back Sam Lockett III (0) during the first half of an NCAA college football game ,Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023, in Seattle.
Washington wide receiver Rome Odunze (1) runs in a touchdown in front of Washington State defensive back Sam Lockett III (0) during the first half of an NCAA college football game ,Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson) Photo Gallery

SEATTLE — Putting the cap on a perfect regular season – just the second in school history – required Washington coach Kalen DeBoer to make one of the riskiest calls of his career.

It helped to know the ball was likely to end up in the hands of Rome Odunze.

Odunze’s 23-yard run on fourth-and-1 deep in Washington’s own end helped set the stage for Grady Gross to kick a 42-yard field goal on the final play as the fourth-ranked Huskies beat Washington State 24-21 on Saturday in the Apple Cup for an undefeated regular season.

“I think way back there’s been some risky plays, but I’d say it’s certainly up there given the moment, given the situation, given the field location, the time of game, all those thing,” DeBoer said.

Playing likely his final game at Husky Stadium, Odunze caught a 40-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter and hauled in a 21-yarder on the final play of the third quarter to give the Huskies a 21-14 lead.

But it’s his run play, and the call made by DeBoer and offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb that’ll live on in the history of the rivalry even with the teams no longer in the same conference starting next season. Facing fouth-and-1 at their own 29 with 1:11 left, Odunze took a pitch from quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and ran into Washington State territory.

“Man, what a play call. Got to give kudos to the offensive staff and coach DeBoer for believing in us on that,” Odunze said. “We just went out there and executed. It was perfect.”

The Huskies picked up 15 more yards later in the drive when Ron Stone Jr. was flagged for a questionable roughing call. After Odunze had to break up a potential interception at the goal line, Gross nailed the winner.

“I’m happy to do a little bit of something for all the big things that the rest of the team has done,” said Gross, who found out he was being put on scholarship in the locker room after.

Washington’s past eight wins were decided by 10 points or less with six of those by one-score margins.

“Just being able to find a way to win in those tough moments I feel like it just shows this team’s character and our will to win. That’s what makes it so special,” Penix said.

In the final year of the Pac-12 before most of its members scatter to other conferences, Washington (12-0, 9-0) became the first school in the 12-team era to go unbeaten in the regular season. The last conference team to finish the regular season unbeaten was Oregon in 2010 before the conference expanded to 12 teams. Prior to that, the last unbeaten seasons belonged to Southern California during its run atop the conference in the mid-2000s.

The Huskies still have one more challenge ahead, facing No. 6 Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game Friday in Las Vegas with a victory likely putting Washington into the College Football Playoff.

They’ll need Penix to be better than he was against the Cougars (5-7, 2-7) . Penix had several miscommunications with his pass catchers and the final drive had a few questionable throws. He finished 18 of 33 for 204 yards, not exactly the closing statement that could have boosted his Heisman Trophy campaign.

But he made a handful of big plays and often looked Odunze’s way when they were needed. Odunze’s 40-yard TD came on a play-action pass and a blown coverage by the Cougars. His 21-yard score came one play after Jack Westover made a diving grab for 19 yards.

For much of the game, Washington State (5-7, 2-7) was the better team. The Cougars needed a win to reach bowl eligibility after snapping a six-game losing streak last week against Colorado.

“Our guys put it all out there. We came in here ready to attack, ready to win a game. Had a vision, had a plan,” Washington State coach Jake Dickert said. “For the most part, lived out that plan. Shot ourselves maybe in the foot one too many times.”

Washington State quarterback Cam Ward threw for 317 yards and three touchdowns, but also had three interceptions. Ward threw touchdowns of 21 yards to Josh Kelly and 25 yards to Kyle Williams in the first half, and his 8-yard TD pass to Lincoln Victor with 5:58 left pulled the Cougars even at 21.

But Washington State couldn’t take advantage of holding the Huskies to a three-and-out on Washington’s ensuing possession. Ward was incomplete on third down from his own 47 and the Cougars punted back to Washington with 1:59 remaining.

Victor had 11 catches for 88 yards and Kelly finished with eight receptions for 106 yards.

“It’s bittersweet. It came down to a few plays,” Victor said. “Like I said, they were the better team tonight.”

LAST CALL

The Apple Cup will continue after the schools reached agreement on a five-year deal to keep the game going through 2028. But it’ll never be the same. It will lack the stakes of the previous generations when the Huskies and Cougars were members of the same conference.

The next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 14, 2024, at Lumen Field.

“Will it ever be the same? We’ll see,” Dickert said. “But I know it means something to everybody.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Washington State: The defense deserves a lot of credit and recognition for the job in slowing down Washington’s offense. The Huskies finished 306 total yards and Penix was sacked twice.

Washington: Offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb wasn’t happy with the performance last week against Oregon State and will be equally irritated with the mistakes made versus the Cougars. They must be better next week against Oregon.

UP NEXT

Washington State’s season likely complete.

Washington will face Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game Friday in Las Vegas.

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