Oct. 11, 2009
By Jeremy Cothran
SEATTLE - Sometimes, you need a break to fall your way.
This was the reality facing the Washington football team, down five late in the fourth quarter with Arizona holding the ball. All the Wildcats had to do was bleed out the clock, pick up a few first downs, and they would fly home to Tucson with a conference victory.
Instead, a miraculous interception and the ensuing defensive stand allowed the Huskies to pull the most daring of escape jobs.
Linebacker Mason Foster snared a pass off the shoe top of Wildcats receiver Delashaun Dean and then raced 37 yards down the left sideline as Husky Stadium turned into bedlam. A few plays later, freshman cornerback Desmond Trufant leaped to pick off a pass with 36 seconds remaining, sealing the 36-33 win for the Dawgs.
It was as improbable a win as coach Steve Sarkisian could remember. But after the Huskies (3-3, 2-1 Pac-10 Conference) had battled through bad luck last week against Notre Dame, they might have been due some good fortune of their own. One thing Sarkisian always preaches, though, is that playing hard will generate breaks.
"When you play hard, and you do things right, you catch breaks," Sarkisian said. "That's how breaks occur. When the other team makes their mistake, you're there to capitalize on them. I thought that's what happened."
The implications of the win are huge. The Huskies are now tied in a group behind only undefeated Oregon in the Pac-10. And they're only three wins shy of becoming eligible for a bowl berth, a tremendous accomplishment considering where the program was last year.
For most of the game, the Huskies had difficulty stoping the synchronized Arizona offense, which used short passes with lethal efficiency. The Huskies were missing two starting defensive backs due to injury, so the Wildcats (3-2, 1-1) responded with a spread offense, exposing UW's zone defense. The Huskies couldn't play anything but their base defense, not having enough depth for nickel and dime packages.
Compounding the problem was that Washington couldn't generate a pass rush on Wildcats quarterback Nick Foles either. Their only sack of the night came on Arizona's final drive, when Daniel Te'o-Nesheim pulled down Foles one play before he threw the fourth-down pick to Trufant.
But Foster's interception came against an Arizona screen pass - the same play they had used to bludgeon the Huskies defense with over and over again. In the huddle, Foster told teammates he would "jump" the screen, a risky gamble that would have put him out of position. In the zone defense, Foster was assigned to defend a certain part of the field, a role not conducive to freelancing.
But Foster's aggressiveness forced a low throw from Foles, which caromed off Dean's shoes and into the waiting hands of Foster.
"I knew I should have jumped it earlier, but you have to respect them because they're a good running team too," said Foster, who finished with 11 tackles. "So you have to play your job before you go out there and make up your own things ... but you know, in certain situations (the coaches) tell us to take shots. So I took a shot."
Sarkisian put faith in his defense after quarterback Jake Locker threw a 25-yard dart to tight end Kavario Middleton to pull the Huskies to 33-28 with 2:55 on the clock in the fourth. So he eschewed the onside kick, hoping his defense could come up and make a play, or at least a stop.
"It's a guy that said, `I'm going to step up and make a play,'" said linebacker Donald Butler, referring to Foster's call. "And then we were able to do it."