Nov. 5, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Great party. Not so great of a result.
Desmond Trufant trudged onto an elevator inside Hec Edmundson Pavilion that took him from the Huskies' locker room to an interview room. The junior cornerback dropped his head. He sighed. He muttered and shook his head.
He wasn't alone.
"Disappointed. Pretty somber," coach Steve Sarkisian said of his players late Saturday night. "This team has come to the point where they truly expect to win. We were 5-0 in Husky Stadium this season coming into this game. The buildup. The energy. Our great week of preparation. For the game to go the way it did, they are disappointed."
UW's revered, 1991 national-championship team came back for a rollicking 20th reunion. When coach Don James came out for the coin toss, Husky Stadium rocked. He and his players from that perfect season were honored during the game with on-field recognition, and Husky Stadium literally rocked again -- to its 91-year-old core like it hadn't in ages. The roofs shook like it was 1991 again, after all.
And Washington celebrated the final game in Husky Stadium for its 18 seniors.
Yet six sacks, three turnovers, several dropped passes, and many missed opportunities by the Huskies' offense doomed Washington in a 34-17 loss to sixth-ranked Oregon Saturday night in the raucous, 545th and final game in the old lakeside home before Husky Stadium renovations begin Monday.
The glum Trufant knew an opportunity for one of the greatest wins in the storied history of the old house on Montlake Boulevard had just slipped away.
"We just didn't give ourselves a chance," he said. "When there were plays to be made, we didn't make them."
Sarkisian felt the same way.
"It's a disappointment," the third-year coach said, "because the stadium was awesome."
Yes, it was.
Visitors from Oregon and elsewhere - and even some locals not accustomed to Husky Stadium in such a rowdy uproar -- looked horrified when the press box began shaking and swaying immediately before kickoff. The largest crowd of the season, 69,407, was rockin' like it hadn't in years.
Even Oregon coach Chip Kelly noticed that "it was rocking out there."
The party saw Chris Polk rush 24 times for 80 yards and the Huskies (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12) twice get within seven points of the Ducks (8-1, 5-1) on touchdown passes by Keith Price, in the second and third quarters. And the house rocked again.
"The crowd did a great job. They were hyped," Price said. "It definitely got us going."
He completed 24 of 35 passes but for just 143 yards, with two interceptions and two touchdown passes. That gives the redshirt sophomore 25 TD throws, tied with Brock Huard from 1997 for second most in any UW season. Price is two behind Cody Pickett's school record from 2002.
"We just had a lot of mistakes. A LOT of mistakes. A lot of mental errors," Price said. "They had a couple of line games we weren't prepared for."
Yet Price said he's confident "we'll get it fixed" for Washington's game next Saturday at 12:45 p.m.at USC (7-2, 4-2).
Sarkisian particularly bemoaned the lack of pass protection from an offensive line with a first-year starter and two second-year starters - but one that has played far better this season than Saturday.
"This is two games against two pretty good teams, Stanford and Oregon, and we have not performed up front. I'm still trying to figure out what happened," Sarkisian said.
"Six sacks is a crazy number to me. That's embarrassing."
The lack of protection forced Sarkisian into what he described as "reluctance" to call deep pass plays, which partly explains Price's low yardage total.
Yet Washington seized momentum twice in the middle of the game. The first was Price's 1-yard touchdown pass to Michael Hartvigson on a fake-dive play to Polk 30 seconds before halftime. The redshirt freshman's first career score got the Huskies to within 17-10 at the break.
Oregon zoomed 90 yards in 12 plays to begin the second half and put the Huskies back down by 14. And it seemed the Ducks' usual, third-quarter blow by of a drained opponent was on.
But the Huskies did not cower, as they ultimately did while having a 25-16 game in the third quarter turn into a 53-16 loss to Oregon in Eugene a year ago Sunday.
They growled back.
Polk rushed for 14 yards, his biggest gain. True freshman Bishop Sankey exploded for 19 yards on his first run of the night. Price connected with Devin Aguilar for 20 more. And freshman Kasen Williams made a remarkable catch on the sideline of the end zone while leaping, landing and keeping a foot inbounds for a 10-yard touchdown catch. The Huskies were back within 24-17 with 8:33 left in the third quarter.
Then, the game's biggest play. The stadium was shaking again on third and 9 for Oregon at its own 31. A Huskies stop might have caused premature dismantling of the roofs, the way the place was rockin'. But Darron Thomas threw just before getting hit, finding tight end David Paulson with no Husky within 10 yards of him over the middle. Paulson caught the pass at the 50 and rumbled to the Washington 35 before safety Will Shamburger caught up to him.
"That hurt us," UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. "We didn't do a good job re-routing the receiver.
"That really hurt us, right when he were starting to get momentum."
DeAnthony Thomas ended that Oregon drive with a 9-yard touchdown run. The Ducks were back up by 14, 31-17.
Oregon outscored the Huskies 17-7 in that decisive quarter.
The Huskies got to the Oregon 47 and 27 in the final period - the second time after Price had his breath knocked from him on another sack and Nick Montana came in cold for one play to throw a 53-yard pass down the sideline to Williams. Price returned but Jermaine Kearse dropped a pass at the 8. Kevin Smith had one go off his chest in the end zone. And the Huskies finished with their fewest points this season.
Sarkisian said "I'm proud of our defense" after it held the Ducks to 381 total yards, 145 below its average.
"But I didn't think we'd have 278 yards (on offense), either, I can tell you that," the Huskies' play-caller said.
An anxious-looking Price threw high into two interceptions in the first 20 minutes, and the long returns of each pick set up Oregon's two touchdowns in the half. Sarkisian said - and Price agreed - the Ducks safeties were reading his eyes and jumping the throws.
With the Ducks poised for a 45-yard field goal from Alejandro Maldonado with 1 second left in the first half that could have pushed their lead to 20-10, Sarkisian pulled the triple-ice trick - three successive time outs to let the kicker think about his task. The ploy worked. Maldonado shanked the kick far short.
Momentum ran off the field with the Huskies for halftime. Too bad execution didn't join them.
That could have made this even more of a night for the ages than it already was.
"It was a tremendous atmosphere for Husky Stadium. I thought our fans really brought a lot of energy and excitement. Unfortunately, we didn't play well enough offensively to win," Sarkisian said. "You can't have three turnovers. You can't have six sacks. You can't give a team like Oregon short fields, and expect to beat them."
Aguilar, though, explained the reality of a college football season.
"We've moving on to USC," the senior wide receiver said. "We can't mope."
QUICK HITS: The loudest cheer for any '91 player shown on the stadium's video board was for Steve Emtman. He pumped his arms to the crowd. ... Sarkisian is 13-6 at Husky Stadium, a record that will stay on hold until Sept. 7, 2013. That will be the dedication game of the new stadium, against Boise State. ... The Huskies head onto the road to play USC and Oregon State the next two weekends. They host this season's Apple Cup Nov. 26 - and the 2012 home schedule -- at the Seattle Seahawks' home, CenturyLink Field. ... Williams set a career high with 79 yards receiving. ... UW was held under 100 yards rushing for the first time in 2011. ... After the game, parents brought kids onto the field and took final pictures. A security guard snapped pictures on his smart phone in the tunnel of Washington's bowl posters. And UW staffers confiscated at least one saw from a fan who was dividing wooden benches in the lower bowl for personal souvenirs.