Bralen Trice was just standing there when the football popped out, cleanly separated from an Arkansas State quarterback following teammate Faatui Tuitele's ferocious hit.
Instinctively, the then-redshirt freshman edge rusher bent over and in one motion tucked the ball under his arm and took off running, or, to be more accurate, chugging toward the east end zone at Husky Stadium.
Trice crossed the goal line without anyone getting in his way, completing a 72-yard touchdown run and every defensive player's dream to cap off the University of Washington's 52-3 victory that day.
While on the surface this was just another roundhouse punch served up in a lopsided game, Trice's play proved noteworthy — it stands as the Huskies' only runback for points by kickoff, punt, interception or fumble over the past 22 games.
They're usually far more opportunistic than that.
In 2014 alone, Chris Petersen's first Husky team scored on 10 returns using every one of the four aforementioned modes to reach the end zone. Shaq Thompson even came up with a school-record three fumble returns for touchdowns that season.
The UW had six TD runbacks overall each season in 2015 and 2016.
Over the past two and a half seasons, however, Trice's heroics have been all the men of Montlake could muster and the Arizona native actually was criticized by some for how he did his.
As the scoring run was replayed over and over the following week, a few wise-guy Husky fans mentioned how slow Trice appeared in lumbering for his six points.
Yes, he heard those comments.
"I'm a defensive lineman and you have to keep in mind that I was out there for five or six passing plays, and I'm tired and worn out and on my last breath," Trice pointed out, "and I pick up a ball and I've got to run 70 or 80 yards, you know, at full speed."
Of the four types of returns, a fumble runback requires the highest degree of difficulty. On a kickoff, punt or interception, a player generally gets to catch the ball on the fly. With a fumble, he has to corral the thing before even thinking of going anywhere with it.
Either way, beginning with the end of the Petersen's regime to the end of Jimmy Lake's brief leadership, the Huskies have suffered through a draught of instant change-of-possession points.
Over the past decade, Dante Pettis, John Ross and Thompson set national or school records in punts, kickoffs and fumble returns, respectively, for the Huskies.
In 2019, linebacker Brandon Wellington supplied the last bit of excitement in bunches, though both of his runbacks came on the road. He returned fumbles 69 yards for a touchdown at BYU and 5 yards for a score at Arizona.
Yet in more recent seasons, only Trice has provided points as the ball changed hands. He knows what happened against Arkansas State wasn't artistically pretty, at least not on the scale of a Pettis or a Ross, but he crossed the goal line after a long journey.
"At the same time, I was a little slow out there, out of breath and tired and going through it, but I enjoyed it," he said. "I picked up that ball and I wasn't going to be tackled. I was not going to go down. I was going to score that ball."
LONGEST UW TD FUMBLE RUNBACKS
100 — Shaq Thompson, 2014, California
77 — James Noe, 195, Colorado
73 — Don McCumby, 1956, Stanford
72 — Bralen Trice, 2021, Arkansas State
69 — Brandon Wellington, 2019, BYU
55 — Greg Carothers, 2003, Oregon
53 — Marcus Peters, 2013, Colorado
52 — Shaq Thompson, 2014, Illinois
52 — Gordy Guinn, 1971, Texas Christian
51 — Justin Glenn, 2009, Stanford
51 — Fletcher Jenkins, 1979, Oregon State
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