USA Today Sports

Refs Didn’t Beat Washington, But They Tried

Don’t worry. I’m not going to rail on that tired retread of a story that is the (in)competence of Pac-12 officiating. I know it’s as old as Gloomy Gil Dobie - so I won’t talk about the two touchdowns that were taken off the board by phantom penalties, or the pass interference against Josh Perkins in the fourth quarter that crushed a promising drive when Washington was down one point.

I won’t even bring up the pass interference non-call that took the Husky faithful off their seats in a fit of rage rarely seen at Husky Stadium these days.

So again - don’t panic. I won’t even begin to break down any of those calls. This isn’t going to be some sickening batch of sour grapes distilled from No. 13 Utah’s 34-23 win over the Huskies Saturday night in Seattle. But it was interesting to gauge the reaction of the players when they were asked about it. 

So indulge me for a second.  

Husky receiver Dante Pettis, whose four-yard touchdown catch from Jake Browning on the very first drive of the game was taken off the board due to a pass interference call on fellow receiver Brayden Lenius, wasn’t sure what happened. But he was sure of what his teammate told him.

“From what Brayden (Lenius) told me, he said it was just a clean play like how he practiced,” said Pettis.

Perkins seemed to be the one squarely in the zebras’ cross-hairs. He had a 53-yard reception down the south sideline ruled out of bounds at the one-yard line when it was quite clear he had crossed the goal line with the ball before going out of bounds. And then down one, 24-23, Perkins was clattered by Utah’s Chase Hansen on one of the cleaner pass interference calls you will see - and it wasn’t called. And to top it all off, the UW tight end was called for his own pass interference call that wiped out a 21-yard catch that went all the way down inside Utah territory. 

“They didn’t tell me anything, just said I pushed off,” Perkins said after when asked if he received any explanation from the officials on his pass interference call. “I don’t think I did, but, like I said, I’m not the ref. It’s a tough call but we have to live with it.”

And with that statement, Josh Perkins announced his Presidential candidacy for 2040. In fact, in talking to all the coaches afterward, they took diplomacy to a whole new level when asked about the officiating. But to paraphrase Marshawn Lynch, it was pretty clear they were doing that so they wouldn’t get fined. 

“I thought they were talking about Darrell (Daniels),” Washington Head Coach Chris Petersen said with a quizzical shake of his head when asked about a holding penalty on right guard Coleman Shelton that wiped out a Myles Gaskin 23-yard score to put the Huskies ahead early in the fourth quarter. 

And the long pass to Perkins that wasn’t ruled a score? “You saw what I saw,” Petersen said, the years instantly wound back to Tyrone Willingham’s famous ‘your eyes are as good as mine’ quote when asked about the availability of then-UW linebacker E.J. Savannah. 

The catcalls heard from the stands at Husky Stadium Saturday after Perkins’ PI would have made Lou Piniella proud. It wasn’t as if the refs had anything riding on the game; it actually felt more sinister. For just a brief second, the conspiracy theorist in me decided for sure this was the conference’s way of ensuring Stanford and Utah would play in the Pac-12 Title game. I mean, why not? Stranger things have certainly happened. 

What was much easier to decipher was how the Huskies completely obliterated any chance they had of beating the Utes. The obvious; turning the ball over three times and muffing a punt early in the game that eventually turned into seven points for the visitors. 

The Huskies gift-wrapped 17 points to Utah, and you can’t do that for any team, let alone a top-15 team in the country. The Utes had drives that started at the Washington 32, Washington 8, Washington 48, Washington 40, and Washington 35. A third of their drives started in Husky territory. 

Petersen said it himself after the game; if you allow a team to score 24 points in a quarter and you basically turn the ball over five times, you give yourself no shot to win the game. 

And yet the game was so winnable. 

“I thought we did some things,” Petersen said. “We had some explosive things. We still ran the ball a little bit. I think you just cut those turnovers in half. Yeah, just not the short fields. It was an eight-yard field. It was a touchdown. It was a 32-yard field, something like that. That’s just back breaking. Listen, you can have one, not three. That’s going to help us. It’s going to give us a chance at least.”

To think how difficult it was coming into Saturday night for the Huskies to score in the first quarter - they’d only scored 17 points that period all season - and then to see a good play erased on a bunk call was hard to watch. 

But let’s be clear - with all that went against the Huskies, and there was plenty - Washington was still down one with over 13 minutes left in the game. The game was basically a coin flip by then. 

That’s when Utah’s veterans, including quarterback Travis Wilson and running back Devontae Booker, took over. 

After Perkins’ mythical interference call pushed the Huskies back to the point where they had to punt, Utah took over at their 40 yard line. Wilson engineered a nine-play, 60-yard touchdown drive in crunch time that saw him and Booker carve up a depleted Washington defense. It was back-breaking, the kind of effort you would expect from a top-15 team.

Washington isn’t there yet. But Petersen knows that time isn’t as far off as many might think. 

“There’s so much ebb and flow with this team, with these young guys,” he said. “We get so far behind and we battle back and it’s right there and then it slips away. I think we just need to learn to play tighter the whole way and then figure out how to get over the hump at the end than have to come all the way back and momentum and all of those things. I know we will. I know we can play cleaner, we can see it. It’s really frustrating for everybody. It’s common sense stuff and it’s just going to go back to how we work in practice to see how we clean up some of that stuff.”

When the guys in the black and white stripes also clean up their stuff, there’s no doubt the Huskies’ cause will be helped considerably. But for as much as the officials played their part - and they did it with zeal - they didn’t lose the game. Washington did. 

And that’s what makes a loss even tougher to swallow. But leave it to a true freshman to say it how it really is, as painful as it probably was to say.

“At the end of the day when we get questions about the refs and all that, if you’re good enough you don’t let the refs lose you a game,” Browning said. “We’re not going to sit here and blame the refs. They’re doing their job and I’m sure Utah feels they didn’t get some calls. We have to make it so the refs aren’t winning and losing us games.”


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