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Bow flag legit as it gits

EUGENE — If you look hard enough, it’s right there in black and white.

Under Rule 9, Section 2, Article 1 of the NCAA’s tedious football rules and interpretations book, Rule 9-2-1-H states that an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty can be called on a player for:

“Going into the stands to interact with spectators, or bowing at the waist after a good play.”

Tony Washington made a good and potentially game-changing play when Oregon’s senior outside linebacker sacked quarterback Anu Solomon for a 9-yard loss to put Arizona into a fourth-and-goal from the 17.

But after Washington stopped on the way to the Oregon bench, placed his hands together and took a bow toward the roaring student section, a Pac-12 official flagged him for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The sequence of events turned out to be a standing “Oh no!” for the Ducks.

Instead of attempting a pressure-packed 34-yard field goal in a tie game, the Wildcats were given a first-and-goal at the 8. Three snaps later, Terris Jones Grisby scored the decisive touchdown in Arizona’s 31-24 upset last Thursday at Autzen Stadium.

“It doesn’t matter what I think,” Washington said after Monday’s practice when asked about his costly penalty and the strict application of the rule. “The refs made a call, and whatever they say goes. It’s a selfish move by me, shouldn’t have happened. I’ve got to think of my teammates over me, I didn’t in that situation and it cost us.”

It was far from the only mistake Oregon made on a forgettable night for the heavily-favored home team.

On the ensuing kickoff, a holding penalty brought back a healthy kickoff return by Charles Nelson and forced the offense to begin its final drive from its own 10-yard line.

Then Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright made the defensive play of the game, forcing Marcus Mariota to fumble and recovering the ball to close out the stunning upset.

It was the second lost fumble of the night and third in the last two games for Oregon’s star quarterback, who has also been sacked 12 times in the last two games behind a battered offensive line.

Of the 10 penalties called against the Ducks, Washington’s was the most frustrating to fans, who watched him celebrate the key sack of Connor Halliday at Washington State without a flag being thrown.

“There’s probably nothing worthwhile in life and definitely zero in football that’s done individually. Nothing. We celebrate with our teammates in everything we do,” coach Mark Helfrich said of Washington’s penalty after watching the game film. “That rule is I think very subjectively enforced across the landscape. That aside, that’s not what we’re all about.”

Helfrich said he talked to Washington about the penalty after the game on Thursday and again Friday morning. Washington stood up in front of the team following Monday’s practice to apologize.

“That call was really crazy. I’m sure he was down (about) how things unfolded,” junior defensive end Arik Armstead said. “I don’t think that’s a big mistake on his part. That could have happened to anybody. We’re still teammates, we still love him, we still support him. It’s just unfortunate events.”

According to the rulebook, the excessive celebration penalties are designed to punish players who “use abusive, threatening or obscene language or gestures, or engage in such acts that provoke ill will or are demeaning to an opponent, game officials or to the image of the game.”

The NFL, often called the “No Fun League” by critics of its crackdown on celebrations, said its officials made a mistake by calling an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Kansas City’s Husain Abdullah for falling to his knees in a Muslim prayer after scoring a touchdown against New England on Monday Night Football.

Washington said the intent of his bow after a sack also had a spiritual element.

“For me it’s just a sign of respect, that’s why I do it. It’s also just me bowing down to the Lord thanking him for where I’ve gone, where I am and just giving me strength into the game,” Washington explained. “The refs saw it as celebration; I agree with them. It’s done, it was selfish … so I’ve got to move forward.”

Before Oregon moves on to UCLA this Saturday at the Rose Bowl, Washington wanted to make it clear that his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty had nothing to do with taunting the Wildcats.

“It meant no disrespect to Arizona and those guys at all. If it came off like that, I apologize for it,” Washington said. “That’s not me, that’s not my personality, that’s not what I was trying to do. It’s just emotions ran wild, and I’ve got to try to keep them under control.”

Oregon linebacker Tony Washington closes in on Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon late in the fourth quarter last Thursday in Eugene. AP PHOTO