Oct. 29, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - About the only thing Chris Polk didn't do at roaring Husky Stadium Saturday night was turn out the lights.
Oh, wait. That's exactly what he did to Arizona.
The wondrous redshirt junior tailback became the first Husky in 15 years to rush for four touchdowns in a game. He ran 34 times for 144 yards, his UW record-setting 18th career 100-yard game. He ran down the sidelines on wheel routes and double passes for 100 more yards in receptions, with another touchdown that way. He joined Corey Dillon (1996) and Hugh McElhenny (1950) as the only non-quarterbacks in the last 90 years of Huskies football to score five touchdowns in a game.
All that plus a huge fumble forced by new Huskies starting safety Will Shamburger and recovered by Princeton Fuimaono with Arizona driving for the go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter sent rallied rebounding Washington past the Wildcats 42-31 on a wild blackout night that will be remembered for decades.
Because of Polk.
He became the first Husky to gain 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving in the same game. He became the first UW running back since Richard Thomas in 1994 with 100 yards receiving in a game. And he joined Napoleon Kaufman as the only Huskies to rush for 1,000 yards in three different seasons.
"I don't know if any other player in our program now for the last two and half years has had more of an impact ... (on our) program," coach Steve Sarkisian said.
Washington (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) responded from a blowout loss at undefeated Stanford last week and then an early, 10-0 hole plus a 31-28 deficit with 14 minutes left to become eligible for its second consecutive bowl game. UW, which hosts Oregon (7-1, 5-0) next Saturday night in the final game at Husky Stadium before renovations, hasn't been to bowls in consecutive seasons since 2001 and '02.
"We were resilient," senior linebacker Cort Dennison said, proudly, after he had a team-high eight tackles and intercepted a pass late. "Resiliency gets you a long way in football, and it gets you a long way in life.
"Last week, we were beat up pretty good. But we also knew last week didn't define our season."
As if Polk hadn't done enough to thrill Huskies fans, he sat in a plush chair in UW's Founder's Club inside Hec Edmundson Pavilion late Saturday night and said he's considering coming back for a fifth, redshirt senior season in 2012 rather than take his presumed path to the NFL a year early.
"Yeah, I would consider coming back," Polk said, knowing he is 529 yards from Kaufman's UW career rushing record of 4,106 yards with four regular-season games and a bowl game remaining this season.
"I wouldn't want to leave for the NFL until I thought I was the best one here that ever did it.
"That's what you come here for, you know."
Polk almost single-handedly helped the Huskies shake off the loss at Stanford.
He caught a 33-yard throw on a double pass, a lateral from Keith Price to wide receiver Devin Aguilar and then Aguilar's strike to Polk on the running back's sprint route down the right sideline. That set up his 1-yard rush on fourth and goal that put Washington up 14-13 at halftime.
His 17-yard catch from Price on that "wheel" route out of the backfield and down the sidelines put Washington up 21-13 early in the third quarter.
Arizona (2-6, 1-5) tied the game at 21 on a wacky play when James Johnson bobbled a pass from Price while stumbling to the Wildcats 9. The ball popped off his chest and into the arms of Arizona safety Robert Golden, who zigzagged through the entire Washington offense for a 91-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Yet the young, headstrong Huskies responded. Polk rushed for 19 yards on the first scrimmage play after Arizona's tying score. Then he ran for 8. Then he ran for 8 more. He ended a 12-play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run on third down to put the Huskies back up 28-21 in the third quarter.
Arizona tied it again on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Nick Foles to Juron Criner, then took a 31-28 lead with 14 minutes left. But Huskies freshman Kasen Williams turned a 19-yard reception into a 48-yard gain by breaking a tackle at midfield. That set up Polk's fourth score, a 5-yard touchdown run. That put Washington ahead to stay 35-31 with 8:21 remaining.
The Huskies had all kinds of trouble early with the Foles' quick throws and the Pac-12's most prolific passing offense. But UW's maligned defense made huge plays when it needed them most.
Shamburger hit Criner at the end of a catch and forced a fumble that Fuimaono recovered at midfield with 7:14 left. Then, after Polk scored yet again on a 2-yard run to make it 42-31 with 3:59 remaining, sophomore safety Sean Parker and Dennison made interceptions that doomed the Wildcats' late comeback tries.
"That just released a huge burden off our shoulders after last week," said Parker, who added multiple big hits from his strong safety spot - including one on teammate Antony Gobern while teaming for a pass breakup that concussed Gobern. "And it gives us confidence next week against Oregon."
Washington rallied from the quick deficit to Arizona (2-6, 1-5) take a 14-13 lead into halftime. Jermaine Kearse's 6-yard touchdown "run" on a lateral pass outside from Price in the second quarter and Polk's 1-yard run put the Huskies ahead at the break.
Price finished 16 of 30 passing for 277 yards, one touchdown - his 23rd this season -- and a season-high three interceptions. One was tipped. Another came when receiver James Johnson fell down on his route break.
Sarkisian wanted to reiterate how special it was that his Huskies qualified for another bowl game - before November, even - just 2-plus seasons after the program was 0-12.
"It's huge," the third-year coach said. "I don't want that to go by the wayside, like `Ho hum, we're bowl eligible. This is a tough conference, and to do that is an accomplishment. And we celebrated that in the locker room."
Then he added that in 24 hours, it's on to Oregon.
QUICK HITS: Last season, UW didn't qualify for a its first bowl game in nine seasons until the final minute of the regular-season finale, a late win at Washington State. ... Price, fourth in the nation in TD passes coming in, had five interceptions all season entering Saturday. ... Kearse's TD was the 29th of his career, one short of Mario Bailey's UW record. ... Washington did not score in the first quarter for the first time this season. ... Weird: The Huskies allowed 300 yards passing for the fifth time this season. They are 5-0 when doing that. ... Sarkisian said Kearse and Johnson sprained ankles. The severity of those and the concussion to Gobern, who played a lot after replacing Greg Ducre in UW's every-down nickel sets, won't be known until Monday.