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Chris Petersen falls short in return to Boise as No. 23 Broncos beat Washington 16-13


BOISE, Idaho — The cameras followed Chris Petersen everywhere he went, from arriving on the bus, to the first steps he took on the famous blue turf dressed in purple.

They almost saw Petersen and Washington pull off a stunning upset on the field where he providing so many thrilling moments when he was in charge at Boise State.

Washington rallied from a 16-0 halftime deficit, but Cameron Van Winkle's 46-yard field goal attempt in the closing seconds went wide right and No. 23 Boise State escaped with a 16-13 win over Petersen and the Huskies on Friday night.

When it was done, the Broncos could exhale at not seeing the potential of a special season deflated in Week 1, and Petersen could finally get past a game that was uncomfortable and awkward.

"It's a little different situation when you come back and you play against so many of these coaches that were like brothers to us. That's probably been the hardest," Petersen said. "Last year and the year before we had great communication back and forth, and probably about eight months ago the communication stopped."

It looked like Petersen's return would be more miserable than potentially memorable. Jeremy McNichols rushed for two first-half touchdowns and the Broncos overwhelmed Washington at the line of scrimmage in building a 16-point lead.

But Washington's defense stymied the Broncos in the second half and three big plays on special teams — including Dante Pettis' 76-yard punt return for a touchdown — gave Washington a chance.

Washington freshman quarterback Jake Browning nearly pulled off a late rally to make Petersen a winner. Starting at Washington's 35 with 1:59 left, Browning drove the Huskies (0-1) into field goal range. Washington reached the Boise State 19 in the final minute before a key holding penalty against wide receiver Brayden Lineus. Browning was sacked on the next play and a screen pass moved the ball to the Boise State 29 with 21 seconds left.

PHOTO: Boise State running back Jeremy McNichols (13) runs for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Washington in Boise, Idaho, on Friday, Sept. 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger)
Boise State running back Jeremy McNichols (13) runs for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Washington in Boise, Idaho, on Friday, Sept. 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger)

Petersen called on Van Winkle to try and force overtime, but his attempt slid wide right, setting off a celebration that was a mix of joy and relief for the Broncos.

Petersen tried to downplay his return to Boise as much as possible. He was hidden in a pack of players when he arrived off the team bus at the stadium, only briefly being seen in a purple sweater. He lingered in the unfamiliar visitors' locker room emerging with less than an hour until kickoff surrounded by cameras and acknowledging the cheers from the fans already in the stadium.

He avoided any contact with Boise State coach Bryan Harsin until the game was decided and the two shared a hug at midfield.

"It was different," Harsin said.

Browning got the nod as Washington's starting quarterback, the first true freshman to win the job in Washington history and the first time Petersen has gone with such a young quarterback in his coaching career.

Browning finished 20 of 35 passing for 150 yards and an interception in his debut. Washington's run game was no help; the Huskies finished with 29 yards rushing on 22 carries.

"I may be encouraged later, but right now it sucks because we lost. I don't think there is any way around that," Browning said.

McNichols was the star of the first half as Boise State built an early lead and rolled up 254 yards of offense. But Washington's defense fixed its issues at halftime and limited the Broncos' to 83 total yards in the second half.

"I thought we tackled better in the second half, started to get a little momentum," Petersen said. "As soon as anything gets sparked, whether it's on special teams or offense, I think it helps the defense out, just not feeling like they're helpless. So that helped us out a little bit."

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