Dec. 5, 2009
SEATTLE -- The low rumble started in the student section in the first half and increased in volume as the minutes ticked by. When the final moments arrived, the entire crowd was begging Jake Locker for one more appearance in Washington's purple and gold.
"One more year, one more year," the fans pleaded to the Huskies' star quarterback.
If this was Locker's farewell from college football, he made it a memorable one. If not, he announced himself as a Heisman front-runner for next season.
In one of the most efficient performances of his career, Locker threw for three touchdowns, ran for two more and Washington closed out its redemptive first season under Steve Sarkisian with a 42-10 domination of No. 19 California on Saturday night.
The five combined touchdowns were a career high for Locker, who shined as NFL executives looked on from the press box. Even Sarkisian joked that while not leading the cheers asking for one more season, he was, "part of them."
"Like I told you guys before, I'm just happy to get this win. I'm going to soak this all in for now and deal with all that stuff later," Locker said. "I wasn't lying to you guys the whole time; I hadn't even thought about [the future]. It's not been something I've planned or made a timeline for myself. I haven't done anything about it."
Only a junior, Locker continues to be touted as a top NFL draft prospect if he leaves school early. Washington fans made it clear Saturday night they aren't ready to see him go.
He started with a 40-yard TD pass to Jermaine Kearse on Washington's first drive, then added touchdown runs of 19 and 2 yards in the second quarter as the Huskies jumped to a 21-3 lead and were never challenged. He tossed TD passes of 21 and 13 yards to Devin Aguilar in the third, and the Huskies (5-7, 4-5 Pac-10) made an impressive final statement against a bowl-bound Cal (8-4, 5-4) that looked uninterested on a cold night in Seattle.
"I think we might have been overlooking Washington a little bit," running back Shane Vereen said. "That's where we went wrong because they played really hard today and you got to give them all the credit. Every point, every stop that they got they earned."
The night capped the Huskies' bounceback first season under Sarkisian, a year removed from their 0-12 embarrassment that closed with a 48-7 rout at the hands of the Golden Bears in Tyrone Willingham's final game.
Now 2008 is an afterthought and there is optimism for Washington's future. How much optimism will depend heavily on Locker's decision.
"I thought it was funny and I know he heard it too," Kearse said of the chants.
Locker completed 19 of 23 passes for 248 yards, and rushed 14 times for 77 yards. Chris Polk added 94 yards rushing and a touchdown, Kearse had seven catches for 147 yards and a TD -- all in the first half -- and Aguilar grabbed five passes for 72 yards.
"I was concerned about the way we might respond this week and what we were playing for," Sarkisian said, with the Huskies coming off last Saturday's 30-0 win over Washington State. "The challenge was to hopefully send a message of where this program is headed and I think we responded amazingly."
The same couldn't be said of California. Two weeks after their Big Game upset of Stanford, the Bears were flat from the start and played lacking emotion or energy.
There was nothing for California to play for with a bowl berth already wrapped up and its postseason future determined by how the pecking order of the Pac-10's mid-tier bowl agreements play out. But the Bears looked more like the team that was outscored 72-6 by Oregon and USC to start conference play than the team that won five of six to get back into the Top 25.
After California took the opening kickoff and went 53 yards, Vince D'Amato missed a 42-yard field goal wide left. From there, it was all Washington.
The Huskies defense was equal of their star QB, knocking Cal quarterback Kevin Riley on his backside all night and keeping Vereen from matching the big numbers he posted in his first two starts.
Riley was sacked five times, including three times by senior Daniel Te'o-Neshehim, who became the Huskies' career leader in sacks with 30. Vereen, who carried 42 times for 193 yards and three touchdowns against Stanford, was held to 92 yards, most of it coming on a 50-yard dash in the first quarter.
Riley was 14 of 32 for 215 yards with a 22-yard TD pass to Nyan Boateng, but fumbled twice. In Cal's four losses this season it was outscored 145-30.
"The fortunate thing is we get to play again," coach Jeff Tedford said. "We don't have to end the season on that note. Go back and work hard and get prepared to the bowl and look forward to it whatever it is."