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Kilbreath: The Huskies are back

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Kilbreath: The Huskies are back

EDGE Zion Tupuola-Fetui celebrates a third down sack against Michigan State on September 17 at Husky Stadium. The Huskies won the game, 39-28, improving to 3-0 on the season. 

Dating back to 2021, and carrying over into the first two games of the 2022 season, questions arose surrounding declining attendance levels at Husky Stadium, and with it, the state of the Washington football program. 

By game’s end Saturday night, the seats were empty, but it was because fans had foregone their seats and instead scattered onto the Alaska AirlinesField turf in celebration of a statement win over No. 11 Michigan State. 

The statement that the Huskies made was an exclamative one, and a landmark for head coach Kalen DeBoer, who didn’t shy away from expressing the importance of the win. 

“There’s no question, we just beat a really good football team,” DeBoer said. 

Top 25 implications aside, Saturday’s win was the Huskies’ first over a team with a winning record since 2019. It’s also highly likely to launch UW back into the Top 25 polls, and makes the Huskies an early contender for the Pac-12 championship game as conference play begins. 

More than anything, it was a night to remember at Husky Stadium, as eager students poured onto the field to congregate with the triumphant UW players. 

In 1990, USC quarterback Todd Marinovich infamously quoted that “all [he] saw was purple” in the Trojans’ 31-0 loss. In 1992, the home crowd broke the record for the loudest recorded college football stadium at the time. Fast forward to 2009, when the spectating UW fanbase erupted after knocking off No. 3 USC on a last-minute field goal. 

Similar to those legendary games, an ecstatic crowd did its part to assist the Huskies on Saturday evening to the delight of junior quarterback Michael Penix Jr. 

“The crowd showed a lot of love, they were real loud,” Penix Jr. said. “It definitely plays a factor in the game, just going out there, trying to communicate with each individual person, clock is ticking, you’ve got to hurry up and get the play off. It definitely plays a huge factor, and the crowd came ready today.” 

Perhaps, decades from now, Sept. 17, 2022 will be viewed among the pantheon of legendary moments at Husky Stadium. 

It was, after all, the first signature win for DeBoer and Washington’s new coaching staff, who have now improved to a 3-0 record with the Huskies. That staff has restored hope to a UW program, which, just over 10 months ago, appeared to be dead in the water. 

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To say the 39-28 win was signature, however, would be an understatement. It was the biggest of signatures, like John Hancock’s on the Declaration of Independence, only the Huskies were declaring their return to college football relevancy. 

It was a resounding declaration as the Huskies, in front of a packed crowd and a populated ABC audience, outdueled the Spartans from the beginning, snatching an early 22-0 lead. 

UW didn’t quite keep the same pace from its 22-0 lead, but the 39-28 final score was enough to solidify a massive checkmark in the win column. 

Symbolically, that checkmark sent a message: Washington football is back to its winning ways, and doesn’t plan on stepping away anytime soon. 

To make such a beckon to the conference, and the nation, was more than exciting for Washington fans. It was exciting to DeBoer, and it was exciting for Penix Jr., who will likely never have to pay for a drink again in the greater Seattle area. 

“[I have] so much confidence, and that just comes from my preparation, just trusting the play-calling,” Penix Jr. said. “Coach [Ryan] Grubb is a great play-caller, he always gets us in situations where I know, for sure, that we have opportunities to be great in. Just doing that, that just helps you be confident with the preparation. I’m so excited, man. It feels great.” 

The win over a top-15 team in front of a packed stadium marked a rapid turnaround under DeBoer, Penix Jr., and the rest of the 2022 Huskies. Penix Jr., however, isn’t surprised with Saturday’s result. 

“We expect this result against anybody you put in front of us,” Penix Jr. said. “We talked about it all week, it’s not about them, it’s not about who we’re playing, it’s about us. Keep it about us, and just go out there and have fun. Execute, and good things will happen, and that’s what happened tonight.” 

It’s been a quick 180 for the Washington football program under its new administration. Whether it will continue remains to be seen. On Saturday evening, however, the Huskies were a prominent college football program. And until proven otherwise, there’s no reason not to bask in the Huskies’ revitalization. 

Reach Sports Editor Ethan Kilbreath at sports@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @EthanArles

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