It’s the first conference championship since 2000 for the Huskies (12-1), who will almost certainly be rewarded with their first College Football Playoff berth.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — After all that, after all his heroics, they got his name wrong.
Taylor Rapp delivered the emphatic exclamation point to another dominant defensive performance for the Washington Huskies, earning the most valuable player award in a 41-10 victory over Colorado in the Pac-12 championship game Friday night. And for that the trophy presenter called him Tyler Rapp.
The true-freshman safety from Bellingham quickly corrected the guy, and then held his MVP trophy aloft as teammates cheered.
The No. 4 Huskies offered a course correction of their own, sending a message to anyone who might have doubted their credentials.
No way the College Football Playoff committee gets this one wrong.
The Huskies (12-1) won their first conference championship since 2000, doing so in a fashion that should offer no debate about their worthiness for their first bid to the College Football Playoff.
The CFP committee on Sunday will release its final rankings of the season, and the Huskies bolstered their case with a victory over a No. 9 Colorado team that came into the week holding out hope of a playoff berth of its own.
Rapp closed that door on the Buffaloes (10-3) when he returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown on the first snap of the second half, extending UW’s lead to 21-7.
On Colorado’s next possession, Rapp added his second interception of the game off Colorado’s Sefo Liufau. That set up a UW field goal to push the margin to 17 points, and continued a most impressive week for Rapp, who three days earlier was named the Pac-12’s defensive freshman of the year.
“It felt so good,” said Rapp, standing in the UW end zone with purple and gold confetti at his feet, his MVP trophy in his hands. “I’m still trying to take it all in right now. It’s so surreal. It feels like a dream.”
Safety Ezekiel Turner had UW’s third interception of the second half, and the Huskies held the Buffaloes (10-3) to 163 yards of total offense — and just 45 in the second half.
“This is crazy. I’m speechless right now,” UW left tackle Trey Adams said during the on-field celebration. “This is what we all came here for.”
Washington has won 12 games in a season for just the second time in school history, joining the 12-0 national champions from 1991. The Huskies will now wait for the CFP committee’s announcement Sunday about where they will play their bowl game — the two semifinal games are the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona and the Peach Bowl in Atlanta — and one could make a strong case that the Huskies have earned a No. 2 or No. 3 seed.
Liufau, a graduate of Tacoma’s Bellarmine Prep, went down with an apparent ankle injury on the Buffaloes’ first series. He returned to start the third quarter, but his first pass went off the hands of receiver Jay MacIntyre and into the hands of Rapp, who returned it for the touchdown.
In the past four games, Rapp has four interceptions and a forced fumble.
The Huskies won the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, establishing a tough running game early with Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman to eventually wear down a Colorado defense that came into the game ranked No. 1 in the Pac-12 in fewest yards allowed.
Gaskin (159 yards) and Coleman (101 yards) both rushed for 100 yards to help offset an uncharacteristic slow start from star quarterback Jake Browning.
Browning had statistically his worst game of the season against Colorado’s excellent defensive secondary, completing just 9 of 24 passes for 118 yards. He did have two touchdown passes to tie Marcus Mariota for second place on the Pac-12’s season list with 42, one shy of Jared Goff’s 2015 record.
Browning’s second touchdown pass was one of the highlights of the season from John Ross III. Browning was hit from behind as he threw the pass to the flat on his right. Ross, with a defender closing in, leapt and reached high to haul in the pass with his right hand, as if casually pulling down a rebound. Ross then scooted untouched along the sideline for a 19-yard touchdown, extending Washington’s lead to 31-7.
Chico McClatcher added an 8-yard touchdown run with 4:23 left in the game to make it 41-10.
The loss ends a charmed season for Colorado, which had the greatest one-year turnaround in conference history to win the Pac-12 South.