2016 Pac-12 Football Championship Game: Washington clinches conference title, makes national statement
SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA – The Washington Huskies made their first appearance in the Pac-12 Football Championship Game on Friday night, and seemed very much at home. Amid a sea of purple and gold-clad fans, the Huskies rolled to a 41-10 win over the Colorado Buffaloes and earned their first conference title since 2000. In the process, coach Chris Petersen's team made a statement to the College Football Playoff selection committee: They're ready to play for even higher stakes.
"We think we've got a heck of a team," Petersen said. "And I think we belong in [the College Football Playoff]. I think [the committee] will do what they should do, which is the right thing."
Washington's first drive was a best-case scenario, as the Pac-12 North champs marched the length of the field and immediately punched it into the end zone. Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman combined to take the Huskies 65 yards in seven plays, and Coleman’s one-yard run put UW on the board.
It was the first time all season Colorado has allowed an opponent to score on their opening drive.
On the other hand, the Buffs' opening drive couldn't really have gone worse. On the fifth play of the drive, Sefo Liufau was sacked and slow to get up. He limped off the field and was replaced by redshirt freshman Steven Montez. The drive stalled and the Buffs turned it over on downs.
But CU’s defense buckled down on the next Husky drive, forcing their own turnover-on-downs and gave themselves solid field position at their own 45.
And this time they were able to capitalize. Montez completed two passes for 34 yards and Phillip Lindsay continued his dominance on the ground, muscling his way over the goal line from three yards out to put the Buffs on the board.
— Colorado Football (@RunRalphieRun) December 3, 2016
The teams traded zeros for the next couple of drives before the Huskies were able to break through. Once again led by the run game, Gaskin and Coleman combined for 41 yards to set up Jake Browning's second completion of the night, a 15-yard touchdown pass to Darrell Daniels to give Washington a 14-7 lead at the half.
When play resumed, the Huskies came out on a mission – to show why they're among the top four teams in the country.
Liufau returned to the field as Colorado received the opening kickoff, but had his first pass bounce off of Jay MacIntyre's hands right to Taylor Rapp. The Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year took it all the way to the house for a 35-yard pick six.
On the very next Colorado possession Rapp put his name in the record books, picking off another Liufau pass and becoming the first player with two interceptions in the Pac-12 Football Championship Game. The freshman was later named MVP of the game.
"I didn't see any of this coming," Rapp said. "It's all so crazy, it's all so surreal. It feels like a dream out there."
[Related video: Pac-12 FCG MVP Taylor Rapp says title win 'feels like a dream']
Coach Petersen had a different take.
"It didn't surprise me in the slightest," Petersen added about his talented freshman's MVP honor.
With the defense coming alive, the passing game followed suit. Later in the third Browning scrambled to avoid a sack, tossed in the general direction of John Ross, who did what John Ross does best – made a phenomenal play. His leaping catch and run into the end zone made it 31-7, and UW never looked back.
Washington WR John Ross's one handed TD catch is so. dang. good. https://t.co/0jC9NltyAg
— SB✯Nation CFB (@SBNationCFB) December 3, 2016
Was that impressive connection from Browning to Ross simply Browning trying to throw it away?
"No, no he was not," Gaskin laughed.
A late rushing score from Chico McClatcher made it 41-10 and sealed the deal for the Huskies.
This was a Huskies team that looked confident and ready for another chance to compete at a high level. And they looked more than deserving of a spot in the College Football Playoff on Dec. 31. Washington will learn its fate Sunday morning when the CFP semifinal pairings are announced, starting at 9 a.m. PT/10 MT on ESPN.