Washington fans paid $500 to light up a Portland bridge in purple and gold this week. Now the UW football team hopes Saturday at 12:30 p.m. it can reverse a recent trend of being trampled by Oregon.

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This is really taking the rivalry between Oregon and Washington fans to new heights.

Pete Buck, a 1991 Washington graduate who grew up in Portland and now lives in Seattle, was in Oregon last summer when he read about a new policy allowing citizens to pay to light up Morrison Bridge in downtown Portland whatever colors they want for a week.

“I read that and thought, ‘I know what I’m going to do,’ ” he said.

Buck e-mailed a few of his UW fans and within 20 minutes had the $500 necessary to pay to have the lights on the bridge shine purple and gold preceding the week of the annual Oregon-Washington football game.

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“Best money I’ve spent in quite a while,” Buck said, if for no other reason than the fun he’s had reading all the various reaction.

Today, beginning at 12:30 p.m., we’ll see if the rivalry may again become as heated on the field as it has been off.

While emotions have continued to run high in the stands and the blogosphere the last few years, that tension hasn’t been that evident on the field. Oregon has done what it has wanted with the Huskies, winning the past five games by a combined 209-85, each by at least 20 points.

First-year Washington coach Steve Sarkisian has heard all about that, and while he isn’t guaranteeing anything, he did indicate he expects a closer game this time around.

“Obviously it’s a great rivalry and one that has gone on for years and gone back and forth, and obviously Oregon has had its way right now,” Sarkisian said. “But we are expecting it to be an exciting day at Husky Stadium.”

Sarkisian said he became quickly aware of what this game means to fans, especially in light of the Ducks’ recent dominance.

“I was well-informed once I took the job and then I did a little research, and I’m starting to get an understanding,” he said. “It’s one of a couple rivalries that we have here that people are very intense about, no question.”

In the past, Washington often had the upper hand against Oregon, including winning 17 of 20 from 1974 through 1993. But since the Kenny Wheaton last-minute interception that led to an Oregon win in 1994, and a run to the Rose Bowl that season, the Ducks have won 10 of 14. Washington’s last win in the series came in 2003, 42-10.

The resurgence of Oregon on the field sparked a new flame in the rivalry among Huskies fans, and it now ranks as maybe the most intense for UW, possibly even greater than the Apple Cup.

“We hate them, they don’t like us,” said Huskies tailback Chris Polk. “It’s a rivalry game, that’s how it goes. It’s nothing personal.”

Many players, though, don’t quite get the nature of the rivalry until they play in it a few times.

“My freshman year I was talking to [upperclassmen] Roy Lewis and Johnie Kirton and they were telling me, ‘This is going to be crazy. Wait until you see how it is,’ ” said UW linebacker Mason Foster. “And I was like, ‘We played Ohio State already, it’s not going to be that crazy.’ Then when they came up and they were wearing those all-white uniforms. It was crazy. … I just can’t wait. The stadium is going to be rocking. It’s going to be pretty intense.”

Coaches generally contend that emotion lasts only so long, however, and then the game is about schemes and execution, two areas Oregon has dominated the past five games. Washington has had a particularly tough time defending Oregon’s spread-option offense. The Ducks rushed for 445 yards — the second-most ever against the Huskies — and gained 661 overall in a 55-34 win in 2007.

Oregon has averaged 545.3 yards the last four games against UW, 295.8 on the ground. And Oregon again leads the Pac-10 in rushing at 202.7.

“The biggest challenge is they are an excellent running football team,” said Washington defensive coordinator Nick Holt. “They have the triple options and all the gun runs. Plus, they are already spread out, so if you load it up, they throw the bubble screens and get a lot of one-on-ones in a lot of space, so it’s a very difficult, difficult offense to defend.”

The Huskies expect junior Jeremiah Masoli to get the start for the Ducks at quarterback. He missed Oregon’s last game Oct. 10 with a knee injury.

Defensively, the Ducks are better than expected, ranking third in the conference with a scheme built on disguise and confusion.

“We can’t settle for field goals, because you know that offense is going to move the ball,” Sarkisian said.

Ultimately, Buck and his fellow UW fans just hope the Huskies can light up the Ducks the way they did the Morrison Bridge.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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