SEATTLE — This was more like the performance many expected from the Washington Huskies in last week’s season opener.
One week after a somewhat lackluster win at Rutgers, seventh-ranked Washington rolled to a 63-7 victory over Montana in Saturday night’s home opener in front of 68,491 fans at Husky Stadium.
“I thought the guys improved, which was our mission — kind of shake some of the rust off and play harder and play faster and not worry about making mistakes,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “And I thought we accomplished that.”
The Huskies (2-0) outgained Montana 506-163 in total yardage, piling up 326 yards of offense in the first half. Washington scored touchdowns on four of its first five possessions and raced to a 35-7 halftime lead over the FCS-level Grizzlies (1-1).
It was a stark contrast from last week’s slow start against Rutgers, when the Huskies’ offense managed just three points and 97 total yards in the first half, including just 16 yards rushing.
“Everybody’s goal in life is to start fast,” Petersen said. “But I thought it was really important for us, because we got off to such a slow start last week (on) both sides of the ball.”
Washington senior Dante Pettis made Pac-12 history on the final play of the first quarter when he weaved his way for an electrifying 67-yard punt-return touchdown.
It was Pettis’ seventh career punt-return score, which broke the previous Pac-12 record set by former California standout and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers star DeSean Jackson. Pettis tied the record last week with a 61-yard punt-return touchdown.
Pettis is one punt-return score shy of the NCAA career record, held by former NFL star Wes Welker (Texas Tech) and Antonio Perkins (Oklahoma).
Pettis deflected the credit to his blockers.
“There have been a lot of (returners) before me that have had to do a lot themselves,” Pettis said. “I’ve been fortunate to have four of my returns where I go untouched. All my blockers do a great job.”
Washington junior quarterback Jake Browning shook off a first-quarter pick-six and finished 22-of-26 passing for 259 yards and two touchdowns. Browning also rushed for a career-high 50 yards and a score.
Senior tight end Will Dissly, a converted defensive lineman, led the Huskies in receiving with a career-high performance. The Montana native had five catches for 79 yards and two touchdowns.
“The offense did a lot of good things,” Dissly said. “Just excited to get the ‘W’ and fortunate enough to get the ball in my hands and do some good things.”
Washington junior receiver Chico McClatcher added five catches for 68 yards, and sophomore receiver Andre Baccellia had five catches for 58 yards.
Browning keyed the game’s opening drive with passes of 31 and 29 yards before scoring on a 1-yard quarterback keeper to give the Huskies an early 7-0 lead.
One of Washington’s few blemishes came on its following possession, when Pettis reached up and tipped Browning’s pass into the air on a tightly contested slant route. Montana’s Josh Sandry intercepted the deflected pass and returned it 36 yards for a game-tying touchdown.
Browning and the Huskies immediately bounced back on their next possession, marching downfield for an eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive. Browning eluded defenders for a nifty 16-yard run and freshman Salvon Ahmed took a reverse 21 yards, setting up 4-yard touchdown run by junior Myles Gaskin that gave Washington a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter.
Then after the Huskies’ defense forced a three-and-out, Pettis extended the margin with his record-breaking punt-return touchdown.
Montana’s next drive ended at the Washington 24-yard line when Huskies senior linebacker Keishawn Bierria came up with a fourth-down strip-sack and fumble recovery. It was the seventh fumble recovery of Bierria’s career, placing him one shy of the school record.
Browning then quickly led Washington downfield, completing four passes on a six-play, 65-yard touchdown drive. Senior running back Lavon Coleman capped it with a 4-yard scoring run that stretched the lead to 28-7.
Late in the half, the Huskies needed just 44 seconds to compile a five-play, 80-yard scoring drive. After Coleman rattled off a 30-yard run, Browning connected with Dissly on the ensuing play for a 20-yard touchdown pass, extending the margin to 35-7 with 46 seconds left in the half.
“When we were watching film leading up to this, (Montana) was more aggressive against a lot of other teams,” said Browning, who completed 15 of 17 passes in the first half. “And against us, they just played soft (coverage). So they were just easy completions — get the receivers the ball in space and let them make some people miss.”
Washington’s defense also shined, limiting Montana to just 2.5 yards per play and forcing four turnovers.
Huskies senior linebacker Sean Constantine made an impressive interception midway through the third quarter, stripping the ball away from the intended receiver and hauling it in with one hand. Soon after, Browning found Dissly for a 3-yard play-action touchdown pass.
Later in the third, Washington junior cornerback Jomon Dotson added a spectacular 68-yard interception-return touchdown that made it 49-7. Dotson intercepted the pass on the right side of the field, returned it to the left side and then reversed back to the right before finding open space and sprinting into the end zone.
“At Rutgers, we felt a little jittery,” Constantine said. “But today we just felt good, corrected some things from last week and executed at a higher level.”
The Huskies host Fresno State (1-1) next Saturday before opening Pac-12 play at Colorado the following week.
“I think when we execute and everybody does their job and does what they’re supposed to do,” Browning said, “then we’re going to be a hard team to stop.”
Lake Stevens alum honored during game
Lake Stevens High School alum Steve Thompson, accompanied by a large contingent of family members, was honored on the field between the third and fourth quarters.
Thompson played for the Huskies from 1964 to 1967 and was a two-time All-Pac-8 defensive lineman. He went on to spend five seasons with the New York Jets, helping the franchise win Super Bowl III.