Huskies wind up smelling like a rose

San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday) - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Rusty Sim­mons Rusty Sim­mons is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: rsim­[email protected]­i­ Twit­ter: @Rusty_SFChron

On a team with the Pac-12’s win­ningest quar­ter­back ever and the third-most pro­duc­tive run­ning back in con­fer­ence his­tory, it was a de­fen­sive player who owned Fri­day night for Wash­ing­ton.

Cor­ner­back By­ron Mur­phy had two in­ter­cep­tions, in­clud­ing one he re­turned 66 yards for a touch­down, in lead­ing the Huskies to a 10-3 vic­tory over Utah in the Pac-12 cham­pi­onship game at Levi’s Sta­dium.

With lit­tle to spark cheers dur­ing the game, the loud­est re­ac­tion from the crowd, which was about half the size of the 35,134 an­nounced, came af­ter the fi­nal horn. When Pac-12 Com­mis­sioner Larry Scott took the mi­cro­phone to con­grat­u­late Wash­ing­ton on its con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship, the fans un­leashed a cho­rus of boos.

“We do it the hard way some­times, and this was one of those times when we did it the hard way,” Wash­ing­ton head coach Chris Petersen said. “But they did it. That’s the most im­por­tant thing.”

As in­di­cated by Petersen elud­ing postgame con­fetti to hand out roses to his play­ers on the field, the No. 10 Huskies (10-3) most likely will head to Rose Bowl for the first time since 2001. They would have to make an im­prob­a­ble leap of seven teams in this week’s Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off rank­ings to reach the sport’s four-team show­case. ⏩ Sparse crowd: Low at­ten­dance caps rough week for Pac-12 com­mis­sioner. Story at www.sfchron­i­

Wash­ing­ton beat No. 17 Utah (9-4) for the 12th time in 13 meet­ings, in­clud­ing the sec­ond time this year. The Huskies went into Salt Lake City and won 21-7 on Sept. 15 and were even more stal­wart on de­fense this time around.

Utah to­taled a Pac-12 ti­tlegame low 188 yards of of­fense and av­er­aged 3.6 yards per play. Menlo Park’s Ben Burr-Kir­ven had a team-best 10 tack­les in help­ing hold the Utes to 51 rush­ing yards on 25 car­ries.

The Wash­ing­ton line­backer left stop­ping Utah’s pass­ing at­tack to Mur­phy, who had both of his picks in the sec­ond half. The first was the game-changer, and the sec­ond was the MVP-clincher.

Af­ter the first score­less open­ing quar­ter in the his­tory of the Pac-12 cham­pi­onship game, Wash­ing­ton got on the board about three min­utes be­fore half­time. Quar­ter­back Jake Brown­ing con­verted a 4th-and-5 sit­u­a­tion with an 8-yard scram­ble and got the Huskies in position for a 29-yard field goal by Pey­ton Henry.

The Utah of­fense crossed mid­field once in the first half and barely needed to get past the 50 on its first pos­ses­sion of the sec­ond half to tie the game. Matt Gay drilled a 53-yard field goal four min­utes into the sec­ond half to make it 3-3.

Fit­tingly, in a game where the of­fenses strug­gled to do any­thing pos­i­tive, it was a de­fen­sive play that made for the first real high­light. Utah’s Siaosi Mariner lost the han­dle on a Ja­son Shel­ley pass as Mariner slid, and the ball popped into the air off the back of his leg.

Mur­phy grabbed the ball out of the air and re­turned the in­ter­cep­tion 66 yards for a score that put the Huskies ahead 10-3 with 4:11 on the third-quar­ter clock.

“Once the ball popped into the air, I just knew I had to make that play,” Mur­phy said. “The op­por­tu­nity was there, and I made sure that I took it.”

John Penisini blocked Henry’s 38-yard field goal at­tempt with 5:10 re­main­ing to give the Utes an­other last chance to knot the score, but they were fac­ing a 79-yard field and had to­taled just 133 yards in the game’s first 55 min­utes. Mur­phy ended those hopes with his sec­ond in­ter­cep­tion, and just for good mea­sure, he broke up a 4th-and-12 pass with 12 sec­onds left that al­lowed the Huskies to run out the clock on the vic­tory.

The win marked the 39th for Brown­ing, who set Cal­i­for­nia state records with 16,775 pass­ing yards and 229 touch­downs at Fol­som High. He went 21-of-33 for 187 yards against Utah, and Myles Gask­ins, who en­tered the game with 5,131 ca­reer rush­ing yards, had 23 car­ries for 71 yards.

Utah got 137 pass­ing yards from Shel­ley, who re­placed in­jured starter Tyler Hunt­ley four games ago, and 37 rush­ing yards from Ar­mand Shyne, who took over af­ter Zack Moss’ knee in­jury the same week.

“The Rose Bowl was eight points away,” Utah head coach Kyle Whit­ting­ham said. “It’s bit­ter­sweet. I’m proud of what we ac­com­plished, but you al­ways want more.”

Pho­tos by San­ti­ago Me­jia / The Chron­i­cle

Above, Wash­ing­ton cor­ner­back By­ron Mur­phy re­turns an in­ter­cep­tion 66 yards for the game’s only touch­down in the third quar­ter. Be­low, Wash­ing­ton head coach Chris Petersen hoists the tro­phy af­ter the Huskies won the Pac-12 Foot­ball Cham­pi­onship game at Levi’s Sta­dium.

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