SEATTLE — It seemed like Josh Huff’s day was over shortly after it started. A minute into the second quarter of Saturday’s eventual 45-24 Oregon win, the Ducks’ top play-making receiver was laying in a heap on the field turf of Husky Stadium holding his throbbing left leg.
He’d executed a simple inside screen pass, made the catch for a two-yard gain. But as Huff was tackled by Washington’s John Timu, his leg got tangled up on the play.
It left him writhing on the ground in pain. It looked bad. It looked worse as teammates carried him off the field. A short time later he was driven on a cart back to the medical center in Husky Stadium. Surely, he was done for the game and maybe a few more in the future.
With the explosive DeAnthony Thomas on the sidelines with a sprained ankle and unable to play, and Huff in agony, quarterback Marcus Mariota’s two best complementary weapons were out.
“I was worried for him,” Mariota said. “I wasn’t sure what was going on.”
Not as worried as Huff was.
“I just thought the worst,” Huff said. “I heard my ankle pop and you know I just thought of the worst possible scenario. Even they didn’t know what was wrong with it at first. I thought I broke my ankle.”
But the ankle wasn’t broken.
“We went back and took an x-ray,” Huff said. “Everything came out negative and that lifted a lot of weight off my shoulders. That was really refreshing.”
Even with no fractures, Huff didn’t think he’d get back in the game.
“At first I didn’t, he said. ” I was told to stay out of the second half, but I wasn’t taking it like this. I wanted to compete in this game and compete with my teammates and take care of the Dawgs.”
Somewhat inconspicuously, Huff joined the scrum of Oregon players at halftime warming up. He jogged around a little and the ankle felt better. So he summoned the trainers and coaches.
“I just went out and told them that I felt good just running around,” he said. “They told me to make some cuts and I made some cuts and I felt good so they allowed me to go back in.”
And he made perhaps the biggest play of the game.
Washington had just scored on Bishop Sankey’s 60-yard touchdown run to trim Oregon’s lead to 21-14 with 13:44 to play in the third quarter. Husky Stadium was shaking as the 71,833 reveled in the one-score game.
But a few minutes later, Huff silenced the Husky fans, reeling in a deep pass from Mariota and fighting his way off of a defender into the end zone for a 65-yard touchdown to increase Oregon’s lead back to two scores.
“I thought that transition there was big,” Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said.
Any sort of Washington momentum was crushed.
“I was able to swing the momentum back to our side and we were able to run away with it after that,” Huff said.
It wouldn’t have been possible if Huff, who finished with six catches for 107 yards and also 103 yards on three kickoff returns, had decided the sprained ankle was too painful to play with.
But that just wouldn’t be Huff according to his coach and teammates.
“He didn’t have to campaign to get back in there,” Helfrich said. “Our sports medicine people do a great job and that guy is a competitor.”
Said receiver Bralon Addison: “I wasn’t surprised at all. That guy’s a fighter. He came to the sideline in pain. When we went in at halftime, he was walking around in the locker room. He’s so tough, mentally and physically. I knew he was going to come back.”
Huff had his reasons for coming back.
“I didn’t want this to be my last game versus the Huskies,” he said. “The way I went out, I didn’t want it to be like this. I sucked it up and I was able to move my ankle well and I was able to come in and contribute to the team.”