Sept. 10, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - The new, patriotic helmets commemorating 9-11 weren't the only things white for Washington.
Keith Price completed his first eight passes Saturday. He had 272 passing yards and three scores - by halftime. Two of those scoring throws were to Jermaine Kearse. And the Huskies took a 21-0 lead on Hawai'i in their white-hot first quarter. UW had seven first downs and a touchdown in its first eight offensive plays.
The burst quelled concerns over how the Dawgs would react to their coach challenging them following their tentative, three-point escape past Eastern Washington.
"Really, really proud of our kids. I thought they responded extremely well," coach Steve Sarkisian said. "Came out, playing hard football, the brand of football we are accustomed to playing.
"They brought everything we asked them to bring."
Except a strong finish.
Hawaii stormed back to get within one score three times. Then UW's new Mr. September, Desmond Trufant, returned Everrette Thompson's second blocked PAT of the game and his life for two points with 99 seconds remaining. That sealed the Huskies' white-knuckled, 40-32 win over the Warriors before 63,252 at sun-baked Husky Stadium.
Get this: The program that finished winless a little over two seasons ago now is tied with Oklahoma for the nation's 4th-longest active winning streak, at 6.
While saying first and foremost that he is proud of Washington being 2-0 for just the second time in 10 seasons, Sarkisian had the following message for his players in the locker room heading into next week's game at 10th-ranked Nebraska:
"The reality of it is: Man, there is so much more room for improvement ... to understand what it takes to close out football games in the fourth quarter when you are up by two scores."
Later, Sarkisian agreed that is part of the evolution of a program that's gone from 0-12 to a bowl win to now 2-0 in just over two seasons.
"We'd been playing from behind for a while around here," Sarkisian said. "We'll get better at it."
They can't get much better much better than they were to begin Saturday afternoon.
Minutes after a C-17 transport jet from nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord roared overhead, the Huskies roared out of their tunnel wearing the special white helmets with the iconic W filled in by stars and stripes. Sarkisian got the idea for the commemorative lids from watching the Mariners wear white caps with patriotic "S" logos over Memorial Day.
And the coach had a personal interest in remembering the worst terrorist attack in American history: He lost a cousin, Danny Trant, when the World Trade Center disintegrated.
"I just felt it was the right thing to do, and it worked out great," Sarkisian said. "I thought it was classy." One former Husky thought it was pretty cool. "The Huskies white helmets is clean. I see y'all," graduated, playmaking linebacker Mason Foster tweeted during the game, on the eve of his NFL debut with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Foster's Huskies kept roaring after kickoff.
The first two plays of the game were Price's completions to freshman tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins totaling 77 yards. Chris Polk, who finished with 107 yards on 19 carries for his second consecutive 100-yard day, ran 2 yards for the first touchdown behind a great block at left end by Michael Hartvigson.
Man, is it nice to have two, productive tight ends, eh?
Hawai'i's dangerous Bryant Moniz completed 31 of 45 passes for 333 yards for a touchdown but never got to run as free as he did last week when he got 121 yards on the ground against Colorado. He completed a 36-yard pass to Royce Pollard on the Warriors' first drive. But UW's Cort Dennison ran 40 yards downfield from his middle linebacker spot and stripped the ball from Pollard as he neared the goal line. Greg Ducre recovered for the Huskies at their 5 on the brilliant hustle play by the senior co-captain.
"When you play hard, good things happen," Dennison said. "Our coaches are always on us about effort and running to the ball."
Price then led a 95-yard drive the other way, completing passes to freshman Kasen Williams and to James Johnson. Polk's 12-yard run set up Price's 10-yard touchdown pass to Kearse, and it was 14-0 Washington.
The 23rd career TD for Kearse moved him past Reggie Williams to second on UW's all-time list. Mario Bailey scored 30 touchdowns through the early 1990s.
After a sack by Alameda Ta'amu ended Hawai'i's next drive, Kearse got his 24th career score. Price found senior Devin Aguilar, who got his second career 100-yard receiving day on 5 catches, with a 59-yard pass on a post route. Then Price threw a 20-yard scoring strike to Kearse with 2:39 left in the opening quarter.
More quickly than you can sing "God Bless America," the Huskies led 21-0.
"All I can say is: Keith Price is awesome, man," Johnson said.
But Price's lone, glaring mistake got Hawaii back in the game.
Up 21-7 late in the first half, he led Washington to the Hawai'i 10 but then failed to see Warriors safety Richard Torres while focusing on Aguilar's post route. Torres stepped in front of the Huskies receiver at the 1. Price was the only Dawg close on the return, though he wasn't within 10 yards of Torres on the 99-yard interception return. It's the longest pick returned for a score in 122 seasons of UW football.
See, Price is human, after all.
"I have to see the safety there," he said.
But the spunky Dawgs barked right back, taking a 28-14 lead into the half on Price's third scoring throw of the opening two periods, a 31-yarder to Aguilar. That showed Sarkisian resiliency.
It came in handy later.
Thompson's first PAT block, up the middle in the third quarter, forced Hawaii to go for a two-point conversion after Sterling Jackson's 2-yard run had made it 31-26 with 13:42 left in the game. Ducre, starting in UW's three-cornerback look against Hawai'i's run-and-shoot offense, broke up the conversion pass at the goal line to keep it a two-score game.
"He gets better every week," defensive coordinator Nick Holt said of Ducre, a sophomore who made his first career start last week because Quinton Richardson was out with a high ankle sprain. "He played really well."
Seferian-Jenkins, who was attending his high-school prom at Gig Harbor, Wash., High School three months ago, got his first career touchdown by leaping to snare Price's high throw to his 6-foot-6 target in the back of the end zone. Washington led 38-26 with 10 minutes left.
Then came the zaniness.
Kiel Rasp, the 2009 record setter for punting average whom Huskies coaches found as a walk-on off a rugby field, tried a rugby-style, running punt from deep in his own end. The punt was so low it hit a rushing Warrior in the back, and netted minus-5 yards. The bizarre play gave Hawai'i the ball at the Washington 27 with 2:48 remaining.
"Oh, my God!" Sarkisian exclaimed from the sideline.
The Warriors converted that wacky gift into an 8-yard touchdown pass from Moniz to Jeremiah Ostrowski, and Washington's lead was down to 38-32 with 1:39 to go.
The Warriors tried another PAT, but Thompson blocked that one, too. Trufant scooped it up and ran 87 yards the other way to score two points for the defense. Washington led 40-32.
Last week, Trufant ensured UW's win with an end-zone interception in the final minute.
"I love that kid," Dennison said of the junior cornerback.
Hawai'i was out of time outs and had to try an onside kickoff. UH's Tyler Hadden tapped the ball straight ahead of him and followed it. A personal blocker warded off approaching Huskies as Hadden readied to recover the ball after it had traveled the 10 yards required by rule.
It never did. As if Don James himself had intervened for the Huskies from high above, the ball suddenly spun in place like a top and then stopped on the turf inches from the 10-yard mark. A disbelieving Hadden finally touched the ball in resignation, and Washington took possession by rule.
Price kneeled down twice on the final two snaps to end the wild sequence and another Huskies' win.
"I'm getting old, fast," the 37-year-old Sarkisian said, laughing. "Now we are in year three. I feel like we've seen every scenario that can come about in a football game that taxes us."
Yet, as they are doing with increasingly regularity these days, the Huskies responded victoriously.
"The key for us, as we move forward, is that this wasn't just something to respond to my challenge," Sarkisian said, "but this is who we are."
QUICK HITS: Price bettered his 102 yards passing from last week midway through the first quarter. ... Price spread his 18 completions across nine different receivers. That's 19 different pass catchers in his 35 completions this season. "Who is my favorite receiver? I don't have one," Price said, smiling. "I love whoever is open."... The last time Washington had scored 28 points in a first half was Dec. 1, 2007 - at Hawai'i. ... Redshirt freshman Andrew Hudson started at DE and moved Thompson around the defensive line, as the Huskies sought a more aggressive pass rush. It worked better than last week. Thompson had a sack, and Hudson dumped a Hawaii rusher for a 2-yard loss. The defense that allowed 504 yards to EWU last week allowed Hawaii 388. Look for that defensive line set up to continue at Nebraska.