LAS VEGAS — Chris Petersen didn’t want Saturday’s Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl to be all about him, but that outcome was inevitable after Petersen and his Huskies were pitted against the Boise State team he led to its greatest heights in what he’d already announced would be his final game as Washington coach.
“We were excited to come to the bowl game,” Petersen said after the Huskies’ 38-7 victory, “but when we saw the opponent, I was lukewarm on the opponent just because of all the people and the connections, and all those things. I’m just proud of these guys, I really am, because again I just thought that would make it more about me and it’s never about one person, it’s just not — it’s about these guys playing really, really well.”
Petersen’s players performed well enough for his team to dominate. Washington picked off Boise State freshman quarterback Hank Bachmeier on the opening possession and took advantage of the short field to score. From there, the Huskies never looked back, going up 24-0 before the Broncos got on the board and putting the game away with a Richard Newton halfback pass for a touchdown that extended the lead back to 24 with 11 minutes remaining.
That Washington scored on a trick play was fitting given how Petersen and Boise State were introduced to a national audience: the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, when an undefeated Broncos team then playing in the Western Athletic Conference knocked off No. 7 Oklahoma 43-42 in overtime. That game featured several trick plays, including the final two: a touchdown pass on a direct snap to wide receiver Vinny Perretta followed by the winning 2-point conversion on a Statue of Liberty run by Ian Johnson.
Despite Petersen’s protest that trick plays were only a small part of the team’s win, they became so associated with the Broncos that Petersen has jokingly said observers thought Boise State was “Trick Play University.” In this case, he was happy the Huskies one-upped the Broncos on a call he credited to offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan.
“I was really happy,” he said. “They got one trick play [a wide receiver pass] for a first down; we got one for a touchdown.”
A victory for Petersen’s team was even more fitting. Though Washington’s win capped a disappointing season at 8-5 — down from 10-plus wins each of the previous three seasons, which ended in New Year’s Six bowl games — Petersen, 55, departs second among active FBS coaches with at least five years of experience by having won 79.5% of his games between UW and Boise State.
“We’re all very proud to have been part of his staffs and certainly wish him the best,” said Broncos coach Bryan Harsin, who became Boise State’s offensive coordinator when Petersen was named head coach before succeeding him in that role. “He is one of the best in this profession — not just wins and losses, but the type of character that he’s put on display for the past 15 years as a head coach.”
“He deserves a ton of credit and he’ll always deflect,” said defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake, who will replace Petersen as coach of the Huskies. “His winning percentage, all the wins he has, all the big bowls he’s won. He’ll always deflect that to other people, but he deserves a ton of credit for the success he’s had.”
In this case, deflecting credit meant bringing Lake on stage during the presentation of the Las Vegas Bowl trophy and giving him a chance to speak. The current and future Washington coaches jointly held the trophy to conclude the ceremony.
“Well, this is never about any one person,” Petersen said. “It’s never about any one player. It’s a team game. I should bring all the coaches up is who I should bring up.”
More than capping his UW career, Petersen saw the bowl win as setting up the future of the program under Lake, whose defense held the Broncos — who entered the game 12-1 and ranked No. 19 in the College Football Playoff rankings — to 266 yards of offense. The Huskies picked off Bachmeier twice and recovered a fumble in the closing seconds, which Washington’s players celebrated by giving Petersen an ice bath.
“I’ve always felt so strongly that the bowl game needs to send the seniors out the right way and catapult the program forward,” he said. “Every time, it seems like, we’ve won a bowl game, good things have happened that next year. It’s the way you want to end.”
Petersen was talking about the season, but Saturday was also an ideal way to wrap up his tenure with the Huskies.
“I know this: I know he’s happy,” Lake said. “I know he’s happy we came out with the win.”