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No. 4 Washington stays undefeated with last-second 24-21 victory over rival Washington State

Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (9) celebrates throwing a touchdown to wide receiver Rome Odunze (1) against Washington State during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

No. 4 Washington closed out an undefeated regular season in dramatic fashion.

In the final Pac-12 edition of the Apple Cup, the Huskies used a last-second 42-yard field goal by Grady Gross to stun rival Washington State 24-21, go to the Pac-12 title game with a perfect 12-0 record and keep themselves in strong position to reach the College Football Playoff.

It was an incredibly clutch kick by Gross, but the victory will be remembered more for a gutsy play call by Washington head coach Kalen DeBoer. With the game tied at 21-21, the Huskies had fourth-and-1 at their own 29-yard line with 1:11 to play.

DeBoer first tried to draw the Cougars offside. When that didn’t work, he sent Michael Penix Jr. and the offense back onto the field and called a misdirection play.

Penix, one of the frontrunners for the Heisman Trophy, faked a handoff to Dillon Johnson and then flipped the ball to star receiver Rome Odunze on a reverse. Washington State’s defense had fought valiantly all afternoon, but did not account for Odunze on this play.

Odunze received the ball with a full head of steam and took off for a 23-yard gain out to midfield.

Later in the drive, a roughing the passer penalty and a few short gains put the Huskies into range for Gross. A few near-interceptions from Penix and a Washington State sack followed, meaning the field goal try would be from beyond 40 yards.

Gross had missed three of his previous four field goal attempts, but this time he drilled it to get the Huskies to 12-0 for just the second time in program history.

A loss would have been a significant blow for Washington’s CFP hopes. Now the Huskies will enter next weekend’s Pac-12 title game vs. Oregon as one of the few remaining undefeated teams in the country.

Washington beat Oregon 36-33 back on Oct. 14. It was the Ducks’ only loss of the season, and now they will be out for revenge next weekend in Las Vegas in a game that could ultimately have a CFP berth on the line.

Washington wins another close game

Washington is now a perfect 6-0 in one-score games this season.

In fact, Washington’s last eight victories have been decided by 10 points or fewer and UW’s last three wins have been decided by a total of 12 points.

In this one, it looked like the Huskies were in serious trouble. Washington State tied the game at 14-14 just before halftime on a pinpoint 25-yard Cameron Ward touchdown pass to Kyle Williams with eight seconds left in the second quarter.

Penix and Odunze hooked up for a second touchdown connection on the final play of the third quarter to put Washington back in front, 21-14.

In the fourth quarter, Washington State was able to tie the game after what appeared to be an incredibly costly penalty by Washington. The Cougars’ drive stalled in the red zone, so they sent out the field goal unit to cut Washington’s lead to 21-17. However, UW’s Dominique Hampton was hit with a 15-yard leaping penalty for trying to jump over the WSU snapper. That resulted in an automatic first down, giving WSU a first-and-goal.

Two plays later, Ward hit Lincoln Victor for the game-tying touchdown with 5:58 to play.

And on the ensuing drive, Washington State’s defense quickly got a three-and-out.

With the ball back in Ward’s hands, it seemed like the Cougars were on the verge of pulling a huge upset that would have given them bowl eligibility. Instead, the drive was ruined by a holding penalty after WSU advanced past midfield.

Washington State then punted it back to Washington, setting the stage for DeBoer’s gutsy fourth-down play call and Gross’ game-winning field goal.

Washington was able to win despite an uneven performance from Penix, who went just 18-of-33 for 204 yards with two TDs and an interception. He narrowly avoided two interceptions on the final drive, but Washington State just couldn’t corral those misfires and the Huskies were able to eke out another close victory.