The Huskies took a nine-point lead with 2:44 to go and looked comfortably on their way to a national championship matchup with Michigan on Jan. 8 after recovering a Texas onside kick with 1:09 to go.
Things got wild from there, as Texas ended up with a surprising chance for the most shocking comeback in College Football Playoff history. However, the Longhorns were unable to pull it off, and the undefeated Huskies and Wolverines will meet for the national title.
Here are the five plays that defined Washington's win over Texas.
First quarter, 11:25 to go: Michael Penix hits Ja’Lynn Polk for 77 yards
Washington entered the game with the best deep passing game in the nation. Heisman runner-up Michael Penix Jr. might be the best deep passer in college football, and Washington receivers Rome Odunze, Ja’Lynn Polk and Jalen McMillan all have bright NFL futures.
After a Texas penalty and two runs started the game, Washington went deep on the fourth play of the game. Polk got open on the right sideline, and Penix found him for a 77-yard catch-and-run down to the Texas 2.
A play later, Dillon Johnson scored the first of his two rushing touchdowns to give Washington a 7-0 lead.
Second quarter, 1:27 to go: Penix finds Polk for an incredible 29-yard TD
Washington had a chance to get up on Texas early, but a fumbled punt led to a Texas touchdown and a 14-14 tie early in the second quarter. On the ensuing possession, Washington quickly moved inside Texas territory, thanks to a 52-yard pass to Odunze.
However, Washington ran the ball four straight times after the pass play and gave the ball right back to Texas on downs, as Texas stuffed Johnson for no gain on third and fourth down at the UT 14-yard-line.
The Washington defense held on Texas’ next possession, and the offense capitalized. A nine-play, 76-yard drive was capped by an amazing throw and catch from Penix to Polk on a pass that was deflected by Texas DB Malik Muhammad.
— ESPN (@espn) January 2, 2024
After Muhammad tipped the ball up in the air while trying to make the interception, Polk was able to immediately find the ball and catch it in the end zone to give Washington a 21-14 lead.
Second quarter, 17 seconds to go: Texas gets the game tied before halftime
Texas had a pivotal response to Polk’s catch, however. The Longhorns went 72 yards in 10 plays over just 1:10 to tie the game 21-21 before halftime.
CJ Baxter’s 3-yard TD with 17 seconds to go in the second quarter was set up by two Quinn Ewers scrambles. Ewers rushed for 5 yards on a second down to set up a short third down on which he rushed 21 yards and drew a penalty for a late hit to move the ball even closer to the end zone.
What a game, CJ Baxter TD, all tied up Texas 21-21 Huskies pic.twitter.com/VZkLekkSKa
— FootballSZN (@FtballSZN) January 2, 2024
Third quarter, 10:14 to go: CJ Baxter fumbles
Baxter’s TD was key because Washington opened the second half with the ball. The Huskies went 70 yards in eight plays and took a 28-21 lead on their opening drive of the second half, when Penix found McMillan for a 19-yard TD.
Texas’ defense stood up to the challenge of the short field, however, and held Washington to a 26-yard field goal. Grady Gross’ second field goal of the game gave Washington a 31-21 lead.
Fourth quarter, 50 seconds to go: Dillon Johnson goes down
Washington looked on the way to a relatively comfortable win after recovering an onside kick with 1:09 to go. Texas kicked a field goal to cut Washington’s lead to 37-31 before the kickoff and had two timeouts remaining. All Washington needed to do was get a first down or punt the ball back to Texas with roughly 20 seconds to go if it didn’t.
Neither of those things happened. After Texas used its timeouts after Washington’s run plays on first and second down, Washington RB Dillon Johnson was injured on a third-down carry. Johnson was unable to get up after he was taken to the ground near the line of scrimmage.
Since Washington’s training staff had to come onto the field to tend to Johnson, the clock stopped with 50 seconds left and didn’t restart until Washington snapped the ball on fourth down to punt.
The clock rule meant Texas had roughly 30 more seconds than it would've if Johnson hadn't been injured on the play, and it set up the Longhorns’ incredible and improbable comeback attempt that fell short as Quinn Ewers’ pass to AD Mitchell was batted away by Elijah Jackson in the end zone as time expired.