Oct. 16, 2010
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Counted out, doubted and teetering once more, these resilient Huskies did it again.
They proved this is indeed a new era at Washington, that this sure ain't even 2009.
Jake Locker threw a career-high five touchdown passes, four to Jermaine Kearse. Then heads-up linebacker Cort Dennison harassed Oregon State's Joe Halahuni into having the game-winning pass go off his chest in the end zone on a two-point conversion, and Washington outlasted the 24th-ranked Beavers 35-34 in two overtimes on a wild homecoming night at Husky Stadium. The Huskies now share second place in the Pac-10.
"It's super-hype, ya' know?" linebacker Mason Foster said fittingly of the crazy game, the first-ever overtime win at home for Washington.
The do-it-the-hard-way Huskies (3-3, 2-1 Pac-10) blew a 21-point lead - then stormed the field twice in celebration. The first time came prematurely in the second overtime, while not realizing a game-extending flag for pass interference against them was laying in the end zone.
"I can't say enough about how proud I am of this football team and the heart they display," second-year coach Steve Sarkisian said of players roundly criticized for a 24-14 home loss to Arizona State last week. "To our kids' credit, they dig their feet back in, they come back. ... We're a football team that is still learning its ways. But man, they made me very proud tonight.
"This game could have easily gotten away from us - and last year it might have."
Last year, it did.
But this latest drama against Oregon State (3-3, 2-1), which had beaten Washington six consecutive times, and the one two weeks ago on the final play at USC for UW's first road win in three years have erased memories of brutal, narrow losses in 2009. The one at Notre Dame in overtime. At Arizona State. At UCLA.
"You learn from the mistakes made in those games," Locker said. "The biggest thing tonight was, last year when the game got tighter we made mistakes. Tonight - yeah, we missed some opportunities in the second half - but when we got to the overtime period we were really, really sound. We executed really well.
"We made things happen."
Specifically, he and Kearse did. Four times in the end zone, in fact. And Chris Polk ran 25 times for 105 yards, his third 100-yard rushing game this season and eighth in two seasons at UW, as Washington improved to 2-1 against ranked teams this season.
Locker completed 21 of 35 passes for 286 yards and had an interception. He and Kearse, who finished with nine receptions for 146 yards, had given Washington a 35-28 lead on the first possession of the second overtime with a 21-yard touchdown connection on 2nd and 17.
The Huskies then stormed the field thinking they had won the game, when a fourth-down pass by Oregon State fell incomplete in the end zone on the ensuing possession. But Washington's Desmond Trufant was flagged for grabbing the back of the intended receiver while the pass was in flight.
"I mean, unbelievable," Sarkisian said of the abrupt mood swing.
"Coach talks about times of adversity all the time," Locker said. "That was just another form of adversity."
The Huskies then had to clear the field and watch Jacquizz Rodgers, who finished with 140 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries, run it in from 2 yards. That made it 35-34.
Oregon State coach Mike Riley then called time out and decided to go for two points and the win, rather than kick a single extra point to force a third overtime. Sarkisian, fan of the game as much as a coach, said he thought Riley might do that because he remembered watching him do it in overtime of a Sun Bowl four years ago.
Riley did the same thing with the Beavers at the end of regulation at Husky Stadium in 1998. That two-point play failed, and Washington also won that game 35-34 in coach Jim Lambright's last season.
This one failed, too, though Ryan Katz's pass to Halahuni was onto the tight end's chest. Dennison, who had been spying Katz expecting a quarterback run, came over Halahuni's back while a flying leap as the ball squirmed up his pads, away from his shoulder and onto the purple turf in the end zone.
Riley said he wanted no part of Washington's defense for a third overtime. "I thought they were pretty hot," Riley said. "I thought we were having a hard time with them, so we thought we could win the game right there."
The Huskies then ran crazed onto the field for a second time - this time victorious on the final play, just like two weeks ago at USC.
"I wanted to get a pick," Dennison said with a wry smile. "But we won the game, that's all that matters."
Locker found Kearse for a 17-yard touchdown pass on third down to force the second overtime. Oregon State had made it 28-21 on the initial possession of the extra period on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Katz to Rodgers.
Washington roared to the 21-point lead on three touchdown passes by Locker in the game's first 20 minutes, as the senior quarterback looked well past the bad head cold and deep thigh bruise that had neutralized him the previous weekend against ASU. But Oregon State tied it with two quick touchdowns in the second quarter, and then a lightning-fast drive to start the second half.
The score stayed tied at 21 from there through the end of regulation, thanks to two interceptions in Washington territory thrown by Katz and Huskies kicker Erik Folk missing a 46-yard field goal wide left.
The Huskies stunningly led 21-0 with 5 minutes gone in the second quarter, when Kearse broke past cornerback James Dockery on a post route. Locker's perfectly placed touch pass completed the 45-yard touchdown.
But not the game.
Oregon State suddenly woke up by giving the ball to Rodgers, who dashed and danced past flailing Huskies defenders. Rodgers' running led nine-play drive that ended with a 5-yard run by Katz.
Then Locker threw his first bad pass, a forced one on third down that Jordan Poyer intercepted at the UW 35. Rodgers turned that into a 21-14 game with four consecutive runs, the last one 6 yards for the touchdown, and the half ended with Oregon State having seized the game's momentum.
The Beavers tied it on the first drive after the break. They got from their own 23 to the Huskies 37 in just two plays, then Rodgers just about walked in untouched from 4 yards to make it 21-21.
Why the Beavers didn't just hand the ball exclusively to the elusive, electric Rodgers for the rest of the night will remain a mystery Washington is glad it doesn't have to ponder.
Oregon State could have taken the lead late in the third quarter, but Katz threw two interceptions. One was the first career one by UW's Nate Fellner, coming over the help with deep safety coverage in zone. Then Katz casually flipped a pass into the end zone that was way short of his receiver and into the arms of freshman Sean Parker for a touchback.
Washington was again without Devin Aguilar. One of Locker's favorite targets on third down missed his second consecutive game with a hip flexor. And defensive end Talia Crichton was lost to a knee injury after he sacked Katz in the second half.
No matter. Like just about everything else Saturday, the Huskies overcame that.
"Playing at home, at night, against a great opponent, overtime game - that's what you live for," Foster said.
"I'll never forget it."