SEATTLE — Dante Pettis couldn’t adequately describe his latest punt return touchdown for No. 7 Washington that put him in the Pac-12 record book by himself.
A sprint to the right, a cutback to the left and a move on the punter that left Pettis unable to find the right words.
“I still don’t really know what I did,” Pettis said . “I just remember cutting back and making a little move on the punter; I don’t even know what that move was. It was more like an avoidance than a juke or something.”
Pettis weaved his way 67 yards for his Pac-12 record-breaking seventh career punt return touchdown, Jake Browning threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns, and Washington rolled past Montana 63-7 on Saturday night.
Pettis returned a punt for a score for the second straight game. His 61-yard return at Rutgers last week tied him with DeSean Jackson for the conference mark and ignited Washington (2-0) after a sluggish start in the season opener.
Montana (1-1) made the unwise decision to punt to Pettis on the final play of the first quarter. The senior veered to the sideline nearest where he caught the kick, cut all the way across the field, juked Montana punter Eric Williams and sprinted the final few yards to give the Huskies a 21-7 lead.
Pettis is one shy of the NCAA record for punt return touchdowns in a career, held by Wes Welker (Texas Tech) and Antonio Perkins (Oklahoma).
“Coming into this year I didn’t think I was going to get that many return opportunities,” Pettis said. “And then after last week I was like, ‘I’ll probably not get any more.'”
While Pettis showed his creative elusiveness to help break the game open, he was also responsible for the one blemish on Browning’s otherwise spectacular stat line. A first-quarter pass intended for Pettis instead caromed off his hand and into the arms of Montana safety Josh Sandry, who returned it 36 yards to tie it at 7. The defensive score briefly energized the Grizzlies, but it was short lived.
Browning was the biggest reason why. Given plenty of time on every snap, Browning finished 22 of 26 passing with only two of his incompletions hitting the turf. Both of his touchdown passes went to tight end Will Dissly, the first from 20 yards and the second from 3 yards.
Browning also showed some elusiveness as a runner, rushing for a career-high 50 yards on five carries and a touchdown.
“It’s an interesting style (of running). … I close my eyes half the time when he’s reversing his field and all those things,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said about Browning.
Washington’s home opener featured plenty of highlights, including left tackle Trey Adams gaining 9 yards on a designed lateral pass that he nearly scored on, and Jomon Dotson’s 68-yard interception return in the third quarter that was perhaps better than Pettis’ return.
“I should have scored, guys,” Adams said.
“He broke a lot of hearts tonight. A lot of linemen across the country were very sad that he didn’t get into the end zone,” Petersen said.
Montana quarterback Reese Philips threw for 123 yards, but was intercepted twice. The Grizzlies also had four drives end in Washington’s half of the field without points and had four total turnovers.
“Their athleticism and their size and power hurts you as the game goes on and you get a little bit of a snowball effect,” Montana coach Bob Stitt said.
Montana: The Grizzlies got a jolt from Sandry’s interception return, but Montana’s inability to establish a run game allowed Washington to aggressively rush Phillips. Phillips was sacked three times in the first half and Montana had just 3 net yards rushing on 17 attempts in the first half. Montana finished with 31 yards rushing.
Washington: The Huskies’ run game remains a work in progress . Washington rushed for 213 yards as a team and averaged 5.8 yards per carry, but Browning was the second-leading rusher with his 50 yards. The blowout allowed an opportunity for true freshman Salvon Ahmed to get valuable carries as the primary ball carrier in the second half. He finished with 54 yards rushing and his first touchdown on a 1-yard run.
BACK TO REALITY
Montana played its first game against an FBS opponent since facing Wyoming in 2014 and its first against a Power Five conference team since going to Tennessee in 2011. The Griz don’t have another FBS game on their schedule until a 2019 trip to Oregon.
“I hate losing but at the same time they’re the real deal. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that,” Phillips said. “They are very good and we’re not going to face a team like that the rest of the year.”
Montana: The Griz return to Missoula to host Savannah State for the first of two straight home games.
Washington: The Huskies stay home to host Fresno State next Saturday. It’s a brutal two-week stretch for the Bulldogs playing at Alabama and at Washington.