SEATTLE — Taylor Rapp was a freshman the first time he stepped onto the field at Autzen Stadium.
It was 2016 and Rapp, now a junior defensive back for Washington, was making one of his earliest college starts. He doesn’t recall too many specifics from that game, other than the Huskies’ 70-21 victory that broke a 12-game losing streak to the Ducks.
But he does remember the nerves.
“I was pretty nervous going into that atmosphere,” Rapp said Tuesday, “but it was an incredible atmosphere. Electric. Just winning in that kind of fashion, it was very special.”
That night showed Rapp what it was like to play in big-time college football road games. It wasn’t the first away game of the season — UW defeated Arizona in Tucson two weeks before — but that game in Eugene, Oregon, was different.
“I don’t think (Arizona) was anything comparable to Autzen,” Rapp said.
The nerves would’ve been harder to deal with, Rapp said, if the game didn’t start as well as it did.
On the first play of Oregon’s first offensive series, Budda Baker intercepted a Justin Herbert pass and returned it 15 yards to the Ducks’ 30-yard line. UW’s offense then took two plays to score on a 1-yard rush from Jake Browning.
During that touchdown, Browning pointed at an Oregon linebacker before crossing the goal line — a move now simply known as “The Point.”
“It was probably not the best thing to do, but Jake, he’s a fiery competitor and that’s the heat of the moment,” said Rapp, who frequently broke into a grin while discussing the memory. “I love the way he plays the game.”
UW’s offense went on to score 35 points in the first half while the defense held Oregon to a single touchdown. The early success helped a young Rapp settle down.
“I definitely remember how our offense was firing on all cylinders,” he said, “so that kind of helped me play a little looser and not so tight.
“If it was a closer game, a defensive game, I would’ve probably been a lot more nervous. But our offense was hitting on all cylinders so it was pretty special.”
Rapp was one of the few Huskies, player or coach, who has been forthcoming this week in discussing the UW-Oregon rivalry. Growing up in Bellingham, Rapp always believed the Washington State-Washington rivalry was bigger. But now that he’s on the inside, he’s learned more about the significance of UW-Oregon.
“It’s definitely something special,” he said.
But during a week when everything has seemed carefully selected, from the players available to the media to the words spoken about Oregon, hardly anyone else was willing to discuss the meaning of the rivalry.
Head coach Chris Petersen said the Huskies have a lot of rivals.
To defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake, every game is the same. Anything outside of that, he said, is for the fans.
And asked if he liked rivalries, senior linebacker Ben Burr Kirven simply said, “They’re fine.”
Still, Burr-Kirven has distinct memories from the series. He doesn’t remember much about Browning’s point — “I was just chilling on the bench,” he said — but there are big defensive plays that stand out.
Like Rapp, he brought up Baker’s early interception in 2016. While discussing last year’s win, he focused on Oregon’s second offensive drive of the game.
The Ducks scored a field goal on their first drive. UW had an opportunity to tie the game on its first offensive series, but missed the field goal. After Oregon took over, the Ducks were driving deep in UW territory. That’s when JoJo McIntosh forced a fumble and Keishawn Bierria recovered for the Huskies.
After UW tied the game with a field goal, the defense forced a three-and-out. Dante Pettis then returned a punt 64 yards for a touchdown. UW took the lead and never trailed again, eventually cruising to a 38-3 victory.
“That helped turned the tide of the game,” Burr-Kirven said of the fumble. “They kind of came out with an unorthodox offense last year. They were down their quarterbacks so they were running almost 100 percent run game that game. So I think getting a fumble last year against them was a pretty big play.”
Beyond his recollections, Burr-Kirven was hesitant to give Saturday’s game any extra importance. Would he like to win his final game against the Ducks? Sure, he said, but he wants to go out with a victory in every series.
“Everyone in the Pac-12’s your rival,” he said. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to come out every week and play like it’s a rivalry game or else you’re going to get rolled over by pretty much anyone.
“If you get too caught up in that stuff, you’re going to end up in trouble. It’s obviously a big game. At the end of the day, they’re a good team. That’s the real focus here.”
Regardless of individual feelings on rivalries, the Huskies are well aware of the kind of atmosphere they’ll will be walking into at Autzen Stadium. On Monday, Petersen said UW embraces playing in those hostile environments.
UW’s players echoed his words. Both Rapp and Burr-Kirven said that’s what they remember most about winning at Oregon two years ago.
“The environment is the biggest thing,” Burr-Kirven said. “It’s kind of like playing (at Husky Stadium). It’s super loud, super crazy. There’s going to be screaming and the offense is going to have to deal with that. The special teams got to get ready to not be able to hear a thing.”
That’s all just fine with Rapp. He’s not so nervous anymore.
“We live for those atmospheres,” he said. “I live for those atmospheres. That’s why we’re playing college football.”