Nov. 18, 2010
by Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Victorious in his final home game, Jake Locker ran across Husky Stadium's track to the railing of lower seats. He thanked the roaring fans. He then thanked his mother, father, sister and girlfriend for, as he put it, "always being there for me."
Minutes later inside the joyous locker room, coach Steve Sarkisian introduced the Huskies seniors one-by-one. Teammates roared for each one of the 17 as Sarkisian told them how much he appreciated them and all they went through. The 0-12 season of 2008. The coaching change. And now, the promise. "That experience tonight," Sarkisian told his seniors, "no one can take that away from you for the rest of your lives."
Fortunately, no one took away their underclassmen, either.
Locker and his still-broken rib got a huge rest when sophomore Chris Polk set career highs with 138 yards on 26 carries, freshman Jesse Callier added 107 more on the ground and the Huskies' defense roared as loudly as the crowd with two huge interceptions in the fourth quarter of Washington's 24-7 victory over UCLA in the first weekday game at UW since World War II.
Junior Quinton Richardson intercepted a pass and returned it 28 yards for the game-breaking touchdown midway with 6 minutes left for Washington (4-6, 3-4 Pac-10), which broke out all-black uniforms for the first time in school history and ended a three-game losing streak.
Senior Mason Foster had another huge night at linebacker with 14 tackles and classmate Nate Williams added 13 stops for the Huskies, who allowed their fewest points since last season's Apple Cup. They need to win their final two games, at California (5-5, 3-4) and at Washington State (2-9, 1-7), to become eligible for their first bowl since 2002.
"We imposed our will on them," Foster said of the Bruins. "We weren't going to let them get anything on us."
Foster added to his average tackles per game that was second in the nation coming in. He now has 128 stops this season, the most by a Husky since James Clifford finished with 168 in 1989.
Polk was relentless and indestructible, as he has been for most of his first two seasons at Washington. He bulled for his fourth 100-yard rushing day of the season and ninth of his career. His best run was a 33-yard burst of determination late in the first half on which he broke through five would-be tackles. "Five? Damn, it felt like 10," Polk said, laughing.
But the defense - and UCLA's malfunctioning offense - were the main reasons the Huskies kept alive their quest for a bowl. UW's best defensive performance of the season held UCLA (4-6, 2-5) and its three quarterbacks to 163 total yards. Washington used simpler defensive schemes than the ones that had it 110th out of 120 major college teams in total defense.
"We had to be simple because we had to be sound," defensive coordinator Nick Holt said after his guys allowed 277 fewer yards than their average. "I'm proud." Locker, playing with new rib protection, completed 10 of 21 throws for 68 yards and an interception in his return after missing the game at Oregon on Nov. 6. He added a 3-yard touchdown run for Washington's first score. He then enjoyed the first game with two 100-yard rushers for the Huskies since Nov. 17, 2007, when Louis Rankin and Brandon Johnson did it while beating Cal.
"From the first day I got here so much was put on Jake Locker - `This is Jake Locker's team.' Well, this is the Washington Huskies, and Jake Locker is a part of our team," Sarkisian said. "I think that is what Jake wanted. He wanted to just play with his team."
With his offense sputtering and his concern for Locker's broken rib still in the front of his mind, the second-year coach and former USC coordinator said he thought WWPCD - What would Pete Carroll do?
He decided his former mentor would have relied on his rushing offense to seize control of the game. Then Washington romped for 146 of its season-high 253 yards rushing after halftime to break open a 7-7 game. "Thanks Pete," Sarkisian said.
Sarkisian, who said he had been conflicted playing Locker with the injury, removed his indispensible captain from his final game at the 90-year old stadium on Lake Washington with about a minute to go. The crowd roared one final roar for their phenom from Ferndale.
And when the game ended, the first thing Locker did on the field was wrap classmate and personal protector Ryan Tolar in a huge hug of black uniforms.
"It was a great experience for me and for everybody," Locker said after his 37th career start. His 27th rushing touchdown tied Jacque Robinson for sixth all-time at UW. "I made very special memories in that stadium, something I will hold onto for the rest of my life."
The Huskies held UCLA to 69 yards on eight drives from after their only touchdown until deep into the fourth quarter. That's when Bruins fourth-string quarterback Darius Bell - playing because Thursday starter Richard Brehaut had been knocked woozy and first-stringer Kevin Prince had surgery weeks ago - woefully underthrew a pass outside.
Playing zone coverage, Richardson broke on that like a Dawg on raw meat. He intercepted the pass easily and sprinted 28 yards for the game-breaking touchdown with 6:22 left. The Huskies led 17-7 on their first interception return for a score this season, and the crowd of 62,347 went bonkers.
Asked if he ever had such a gift, Richardson beamed and said, "Oh, no - except for Christmas."
Then safety Nate Fellner raced from the middle of the field, jumped and tipped a pass to himself from another Bruins quarterback, Clayton Tunney. Fellner acrobatically kept one foot inside the sideline for another interception as the Huskies sideline mobbed him in celebration. Polk converted that into a 2-yard touchdown run to clinch Washington's first win since Oct. 16 over Oregon State. Washington's 17 seniors were introduced before the game. Sarkisian shook hands with and patted each one on the back before they jogged from the tunnel carrying their helmets. Then they greeted their families on the field.
The final senior introduced, of course, was Locker. Hailed as a savior when he arrived on campus in 2006 as an all-state star from near the Canadian border, Locker got an extended hug from Sarkisian in the tunnel. Locker then raised his right index finger into the darkening sky as he ran on the field to one of the loudest roars of the night.
"I really wanted to approach it like just another game," Locker said. "I saw (on the field) my parents, my girlfriend, my sister, people who are very dear to me and have always been there for me. I said a quick `Hi' and `I love you' and hurried up and got ready for the game."
His fourth pass was intercepted by UCLA's Aaron Hester at the Washington 31. But the Bruins' Kai Forbath missed a 44-yard field goal to keep that turnover from hurting UW.
UCLA then went on a 13-play, 92-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter. Johnathan Franklin finished it with a 31-yard run through the diving tackle try of linebacker Cort Dennison.
But that was about it for the Bruins' offense against the charged-up Huskies' D. Dennison dropped 25 yards into coverage and intercepted a pass by Brehaut at the UW 39 in the second quarter. The Huskies offense turned that into their best drive of the half.
Locker found Devin Aguilar crossing the middle for 22 yards to get into UCLA territory. Locker then ran left, lowered his head, disregarded that broken rib and jumped over the goal line for a 3-yard touchdown. That left the game tied at 7 into the third quarter.
Then came Richardson's interception, and the goodbye party was on at Montlake. "It's a great gift to our seniors, to five them this ball game," Sarkisian said. "For them to be able to have this experience and take it for the rest of their lives is pretty special, though all the ups and downs they have been through since they have been here."