Keith Price completes 33 passes for 350 yards, and the 15th-ranked Huskies come within one, hardly conclusive replay-reviewed, overturned completion late from beating 5th-ranked Stanford.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
STANFORD, Calif. – Keith Price will be more successful in the bottom line of winning or losing than he ultimately was on this memorable night at the “Farm.”
He will never be more impressive, gritty or inspiring.
“He was an absolute stud,” Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said.
Washington’s fifth-year senior quarterback had just been pile-driven into the turf by more charging Stanford pass rushers while throwing incomplete on UW’s next-to-last offensive play of the game. He had stains of four colors all over his white, No.-17 jersey, the result of being sacked five times and hit to the turf at least seven other times. He played most of the second half with his taped thumb throbbing because of an earlier hit, as Stanford repeatedly pounded him before, during and after throws.
Yet Price kept firing back. Fourth down, 1:20 remaining, his team down by three, Price escaped two more Stanford hits. He scrambled to his right. He calmly motioned with his sore passing hand, directing Kevin Smith back toward him. His low pass found his trusted receiver beyond the line to gain. Smith raced back, dived toward the pass and cradled the ball at the ground on the Stanford sideline. Officials ruled a catch, and UW had the ball at the Cardinal 33.
Price raced to get his team to the line in order to get the next play off before a replay official upstairs could call down for a review. Price called the same play, “all verticals,” and UW was poised for the biggest win of its program’s revival.
Then, just as center Mike Criste snapped the ball, the referee blew his whistle.
The replays ESPN television viewers and press-box inhabitants saw was anything but conclusive as to whether the ball hit the turf before Smith made the catch. But replay reviewers upstairs often have high-definition and zoomed-in, frame-by-frame looks that TV viewers don’t see. Whatever the replay reviewer saw was enough in his mind to overrule his field colleagues and conclude the ball hit the ground before Smith caught it.
Incomplete. And infuriating. That’s how the 15th-ranked Huskies’ last chance ended in a 31-28 loss at No. 5 Stanford on a frantic Saturday night for the ages at Stanford Stadium.
True to his character and quality, Price stayed above the messy ending.
"I guess the official made a good call,” he said. “I'm not blaming the referees.
“I should have thrown a better pass. If I would have thrown a better ball, higher, we feel we would have won that game.” Price completed 33 of 48 passes for 350 yards and two touchdowns. Those fantastic numbers tell only half of the story about one of the grittiest, most impressive performances UW has seen in the last dozen years.
“I thought I played decent,” he said. “There were throws I make every day that I didn’t make.”
Decent? If that was “decent,” then Price is just “OK” as a quarterback.
“It’s tough, man. It’s tough,” he said. “We were so close to winning the ballgame that we felt we should win.”
Smith said five different times on his way to the Huskies’ buses and the silent flight back to Seattle: “I know I caught that ball.”
Then he shook his head and said of his quarterback: “He played his heart out.”
That heart and pride will live longer than the sting, at least into next Saturday when the Huskies (4-1, 2-1 Pac-12) host second-ranked Oregon in another battle royale to stay at the top of the Pac-12 North.
“He showed the heart that his entire team plays with. Keith exemplified that,” Sarkisian said. “I’m proud of him.
“But there’s no reward for losing. We are a proud football team. We are proud of the way we played. But we came here to win the game. … So we have to show the ability to handle the adversity of a tough loss like this and get ready to play another excellent football team. We need to eliminate some of the mistakes we made.
“The thing I think we proved to ourselves is that we can beat anyone in the country.”
Bishop Sankey, the nation’s rushing leader at 151.8 yards per game coming in, plowed for 125 yards on 27 carries for Washington, which out-gained Stanford 489 to 284. UW zoomed to 30 first downs, to just 14 for Stanford.
But a 99-yard touchdown on the opening kickoff when the Huskies failed to even touch returner Ty Montgomery, another 68-yard run back by Montgomery in the fourth quarter immediately after Price and the Huskies had cut the lead back to three, and 212 kickoff-return yards in all crucially damaged the Huskies’ shot at a league-altering win. Ten more penalties for 89 yards by the nation’s most-flagged team coming in didn’t help, either.
If not for the kick-coverage errors and all the flags, UW would likely be 5-0 for the first time since 1992.
Smith rebounded from two dropped passes in Price’s 13-for-16 first half to break free for a 29-yard touchdown pass from his pal. That pulled Washington to within 17-14 on the first drive after halftime, as the Huskies continued 2013’s pattern of scoring immediately after the break.
After Stanford went back up by 10, Smith made a 21-yard catch to the Stanford 15. It was Price’s grittiest throw of many. Staring through a Stanford linebacker that was about to drill him in the chest, Price stood tall and fired a perfect strike to Smith outside the left hash mark. On the next play Sankey patiently surfed through Stanford’s vaunted defensive front for a 15-yard touchdown run, and UW was back to within 24-21.
But then Montgomery got free again on the ensuing kickoff, for 62 yards to the Washington 19-yard line. That was one of six times Stanford began a drive from no deeper than its own 39. Tyler Gaffney ran 11 yards to put the Huskies back down by 10, 31-21, into the final quarter.
Yet again, Price answered. He completed six of seven throws on a monster, 18-play drive to get the Huskies to a first down at the Stanford 7. Mickens then broke open through the middle of the end zone. But Stanford’s A.J. Tarpley leaped like a basketball player into Price’s passing lane and tapped the ball to himself for an interception. With 6:11 left, it looked like Washington’s last chance had ended.
But safety Will Shamburger and linebacker John Timu stopped a third-and-5 run 2 yards short of the first down to force a Stanford three and out. Price completed five of six throws on the ensuing drive from the UW 21. The final completion was 1 yard to Mickens outside. That made it 31-28 with 2:38 remaining.
UW used all its timeouts on the next, defensive possession. On third and 1 Travis Feeney ran through a block and slammed down quarterback Kevin Hogan for no gain on a read-option keeper. The great, we-will-not-be-denied play forced Stanford to punt again.
Price got the ball back one last time at his own 33 with 1:21 to go and no time outs.
The only thing he ultimately failed to do was overturn the final, decisive call on Smith’s fourth-down, catch-wait-no catch.
“Ah, he was awesome. He was awesome,” Sarkisian said of Price. “Really, I’m sad for him. But I’m proud of him. Fifth-year senior. Been through so much adversity. To battle back against that team? That’s a great defensive front.
“I told the team was proud of them,” Sarkisian said of his players, as they shuffled to the bus to ponder a game they still believe they should have one.
“I told them that I was proud to be their coach.”