The marching band waited for Jacob Eason, just like everybody else.
In the immediate wake of Washington’s season-opening 47-14 win over Eastern Washington, the Husky players filtered off the field and into the north tunnel. They waved to fans and family leaning over the railings, flipping gloves and wristbands gleefully into the crowd. The marching band spread in formation across Alaska Airlines Field, toting their instruments, then suddenly stopped.
In the middle of the musical mob, a 6-foot-6, 227-pound football prodigy from Lake Stevens answered questions from Pac-12 Network reporter Lewis Johnson, his black baseball cap and faded eye-black clearly visible in the crowd. When the interview finally ended, the band cheered. Eason paused to take pictures with a student who appeared ready to play the flute. Then he raised his renowned right arm, thanked the band for its patience and trotted toward the tunnel.
On Saturday, the wait — for the band, for Eason, for Washington football fans, you name it — seemed worth it.
Two days shy of two years since his last college start, the quarterback (and homecoming king) put on a show.
“You dream of things like this,” Eason said.
If that’s really the case, Eason must have dreamed of dominance. The Husky junior completed 27 of 36 passes on Saturday, throwing for 349 yards with four touchdowns and zero turnovers. He lofted a 50-yard bomb to speedy senior Andre Baccellia, who caught it in stride and coasted past an overwhelmed Eagle corner for a score. He zipped a 10-yard touchdown pass on a slant to senior Chico McClatcher, and fluttered a pair of back-shoulder fades to Aaron Fuller — who turned in two spectacular touchdown grabs.
His 349 passing yards set a program record for a player making his starting debut.
No, it wasn’t perfect. But how would Eason assess his start?
“I feel like I executed the game plan to where the coaches were satisfied with it,” he said.
UW’s coaches had plenty of reasons to be satisfied on Saturday — and not just with Eason. Redshirt freshman running back Richard Newton led the Huskies with 91 yards and a touchdown on 7.6 yards per carry. His first career touch resulted in a 23-yard score, as the 210-pounder from Palmdale, Calif., took a shotgun snap on fourth-and-2 and exploded up the middle, high stepping through a tackle and into the east end zone.
A former high-school quarterback, Newton looked right at home under center.
“He came off the field, smiling, and he goes, ‘This college-football thing is kind of easy. Can I roll out and throw a pass next time?’” UW coach Chris Petersen said. “One thing at a time. Let’s slow that down. But seeing him and his running style — putting his pads down and going forward and keeping his legs going — there’s not a lot of dancing around.
“He’s kind of a straight-ahead, trying to hit air pockets and run guys over.”
Washington ran through, around and over an undersized Eagle defense on Saturday, racking up 570 total yards and six touchdowns. A total of eight Husky receivers caught passes — led by Fuller (5 catches, 73 yards, 2 TD), Baccellia (5, 84, 1), McClatcher (5, 57, 1) and junior tight end Hunter Bryant (6, 81, 0). Baccellia and McClatcher, in particular, each found the end zone for the first time since the 2016 season.
This wasn’t necessarily a simpler Husky offense, but it’s hard to argue with the results.
“There’s just a lot of subtleties in terms of how we call plays. It’s not any one thing. There’s just a lot that we’ve gone back and tweaked and adjusted,” Petersen said of his team’s offensive changes this season. “But I think there was a lot coming at Eastern Washington in terms of shifts and motions, different personnel groups, different tempos. In a lot of ways it was not simple.
“But I think in terms of how the offensive coaches called the game, set the game plan, (guys) knew exactly what was going on. So that was a good start.”
The good start didn’t only apply to Eason, or the UW offense. Despite the number of players making their UW debuts, Jimmy Lake’s defense allowed just 274 total yards and 2.1 yards per carry.
Perhaps most impressive, the Huskies sacked slippery EWU quarterback Eric Barriere four times, with senior defensive lineman and converted outside linebacker Benning Potoa’e — who managed just one sack last season — leading the way with two.
“I was really pleased that we got any sacks,” Petersen said. “Barriere … he is a really hard guy to sack. We watched all that tape, and he’s as good a scrambler as we’ll see. So for us to get to him four times, you saw him get out of some things, and that’s his game. He’s really, really good at that.”
He’s good, but Eason was better. And after it was over — after the band serenaded his every passing step — the junior quarterback high-fived a line of young fans and disappeared into the tunnel, past a young boy in a red No. 10 Georgia jersey and purple UW hat.
“Once a Dawg … always a Dawg!” the boy’s sign read, with the black Georgia “G” accompanying the purple Washington “W.”
Since Eason’s first college start in 2016, everything — and nothing — had changed.
“That was so long ago. I was in a different place,” Eason said of the differences between Saturday and his college debut at Georgia. “I don’t like to make comparisons here or there, but obviously being home in front of the family and in front of the home state … that meant a lot to me.
“It was just awesome to get out there and do what I do and have fun doing it.”
Fortunately for Washington fans, the wait is over, and there’s more fun to come.