Nov. 27, 2010
By: Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
BERKELEY, Calif. - Normally understated Jake Locker went off, as if his Huskies career was in the balance.
Which it was.
Washington's quarterback and indispensible senior leader was screaming at his teammates in a sideline huddle at Memorial Stadium that included every player on UW's roster. Eighty-nine seconds remained in his and his classmates' dreams of finishing their careers with Washington's first bowl in eight years, and Locker was imploring his Dawgs to claw for 1 final yard to beat California.
"This is it!" Locker yelled. "This is our chance, right here!"
"I think they got the message," he said later.
Yep, these Huskies are good at getting messages.
Chris Polk bulled over the right side of an unbalanced line for a 1-yard touchdown run on the final play to keep Washington's rollicking rally toward a bowl alive with a 16-13 victory over stunned Cal amid rain, hail --- and purple-and-gold delirium -- here Saturday afternoon.
"Oh, I knew it was going in. I couldn't be denied," Polk said.
Neither could the Huskies (5-6, 4-5 Pac-10). The edict they have all over T-shirts, posters, meetings and minds to "FINISH" has never been more appropriate. They pulled off last-play wins in October at USC and at home against Oregon State. And now this, a second consecutive win of a revived season.
"We've been preaching it that we've got to finish these last three weeks of the season," second-year coach Steve Sarkisian said with a huge grin outside a joyous visiting locker room. "There is no way to finish better than on the final play of the game."
Polk ran 5 yards with the direct snap out of Wildcat formation for a key third down on the final, 79-yard drive to bedlam that used the game's final 4:39. Then Jermaine Kearse sprinted late on a go route to make a sliding, angling, 46-yard catch while seated on his rear end to get the Huskies in position for the dramatic winning score over the trampled Bears (5-7, 3-6).
"I don't know how I caught that," Kearse said of his sixth and final reception.
Washington, winless just two seasons ago, needs a third consecutive victory next weekend at Washington State (2-9, 1-7) in the Apple Cup to qualify for its first bowl game since 2002.
"A complete 360," Polk, a true sophomore, said of the program's reversal since he arrived at UW.
"No, I didn't think it would be this soon. But, man, am I glad to have my name on it and be a part of it."
Locker ran fiendishly and without regard for his broken rib on the final drive. His 6-yard dash after Kearse's astounding catch got UW to the 1. Cal, sensing the inevitable of UW's go-ahead score, began using its final two time outs.
That's the usually understated leader making his 38th career start turned into a raging spitfire.
"He was fired up, and he had us all fired up," Kearse said. "It just shows what a great leader he is."
Locker smiled almost sheepishly, as if someone caught him breaking his mold in the sideline huddle.
"I think everyone understood. But I just had to reiterate it," he said.
Sarkisian called two more sneaks for Locker that Cal stopped short of the goal line. The coach then daringly let the clock run down to 2 seconds before he called time out and brought the entire team together again.
A tying, chip-shot field goal to force overtime was out of the question. After all, what kind of "FINISH" message would that have sent?
"Coach Sark is a daredevil, man," senior linebacker Victor Aiyewa said.
To Sarkisian, there was no decision.
"We've been aggressive since the day we got here," he said.
Cort Dennison knew that. But that doesn't mean the junior linebacker wasn't sweating it.
"I knew we were going to do it. It was just nerve-wracking," he said. "If you weren't nervous, something was wrong with you."
The Huskies rushed from their timeout into a formation they hadn't shown all day -- but have been practicing since training camp in August and had used a handful of times this season. Cal's defensive front stayed focused over the center expecting another sneak from Locker and didn't adjust to left tackle Senio Kelemete moving over to the right side to join extra tight end Daniel Kanczugowski.
Every Husky got set quickly - no small feat given the pressure and stakes - before a fast, first-sound snap. Polk found so much room over that unbalanced right side he could have run to neighboring Oakland without being touched.
"I practically walked in," said Polk, who had 86 yards on 18 carries.
The only thing that stopped him was the mob of teammates who buried him beneath a beautifully brutal Dawg pile just beyond the end line.
"Oh, yeah, I was in it - sadly," Polk joked. "It hurt - but it was a good hurt."
The swarm then moved a few yards left, to in front of the raucous section of purple and wet fans. Players, coaches, staffers and fans all joined in jumping up and down like human pogo sticks. Sarkisian pumped his right arm and fist amid the road fun that was reminiscent of Oct. 2 at USC, after Erik Folk won that with a field goal on the final play.
"I couldn't be happier or more proud," said Sarkisian, who improved to 10-13 at UW.
Asked how it feels to be playing next week for a bowl, the former Rose Bowl-winning coordinator at USC chuckled and deadpanned, "You probably could answer that for me.
"I'm so happy for the seniors for having this opportunity."
Another of them, D'Andre Goodwin, helped turn a dreary, malfunctioning game in the third quarter. He and Cal defensive back Marc Anthony had a hand fight for a long but underthrown pass by Locker in the third quarter before Goodwin gathered the deflection and ran 40 more yards for a wacky, 80-yard touchdown pass. That gave Washington a 7-3 lead and awakened the Huskies bench.
"Another bad ball," Locker said with a chuckle, likening it to the less-than-accurate pass that Kearse corralled late. "Just a great play."
Goodwin said he was merely trying to break up the pass from being an interception by Anthony.
Locker, who was 17 for 27 for 237 yards, one touchdown and one interception in his next-to-last regular-season start, and Goodwin shared a huge smile over the fortuitous bounce and score in front of the UW bench.
"Offensively, we needed a spark," said Goodwin, who finished with 126 yards on his five receptions. "And that was our spark."
Cal briefly seized back the lead with a sack of Locker later in the period. Bears linebacker Mike Mohamed knocked the ball out from near Locker's stomach, and Cameron Jordan scooped up the fumble and returned it 21 yards to put Cal back up 10-7.
Huskies freshman Jesse Callier responded with a 57-yard return of the ensuing kickoff, swinging momentum back to Washington. That set up Folk for the 37-yard field goal that tied the game at 10 heading into the final quarter.
Cal retook the lead early in the fourth quarter with a 38-yard field goal, but the Huskies' still-developing defense continued to keep the opponent out of the end zone. It is seven quarters and counting since the Huskies D allowed a TD, from the first period of the 24-7 win over UCLA on Nov. 18. And the unit that was allowing 440 yards per game earlier this month has surrendered 163 and 283 yards in the last two games.
"We are where we need to be as far as improving," defensive coordinator Nick Holt said, sounding pleased.
Cal outgained Washington 186-123 in the ugly first half that ended with the Bears ahead 3-0 on a field goal that ended the half, after officials added 1 second back onto a scoreboard clock that had expired following a Cal pass completion.
The Huskies ended up with a 349-283 edge in total yards by the game's wild end.