Oct. 3, 2010
By Gregg Bell UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Jake Locker came back from being woozy following a hit to the head, came back from his worst career start in his previous game, to finish one of the top performances ever by a Washington quarterback.
The senior co-captain led the Huskies on a game-winning drive and a last-play, 32-31 victory over USC. Coach Steve Sarkisian then hugged Locker in the middle of the Los Angeles Coliseum after the UW's first win at that stadium since 1996.
"He showed us how big his heart is," Sarkisian said.
The coach was talking about Saturday night, Washington's huge pick-me-up before next weekend's home game against Arizona State.
He could have been talking about Sunday, too.
Locker and the Huskies got back to campus at 2:15 a.m. Six hours later he was to be back in Seattle's Seward Park for The Run of Hope, an annual 5k run and 3k walk that benefits pediatric tumor research. One of Locker's biggest causes was started by the family of Kyle Roger, a young friend of Jake's who passed away last year after a battle with cancer.
For the Roger family, and for many others across Western Washington, his commitment Sunday was as legendary as the performance Sarkisian described in Los Angeles hours earlier.
"Games like that are how legends are made," Sarkisian said.
And how celebrations are made.
The Huskies' special-teams bus rocked from side to side on the way from the Coliseum to the Los Angeles International Airport. It was the first time all year that steely kicker Erik Folk, who won Saturday's game with a 32-yard field goal after two USC attempts to unnerve him with time outs, was shaken.
The purple party continued aboard the plane. Chants and roars accompanied take off.
It was a celebration three years overdue. Folk's second consecutive last-second defeat of the Trojans gave Washington its first road win since Nov. 3, 2007, at Stanford.
"I loved it," said Sarkisian, a Southern California native and former top USC assistant. "What a great experience, in front of all my family and friends - one that I will always remember, for sure."
He's not alone.
It was the night his quarterback returned to being the Jake Locker Washington knows. He shook off a knee to his head at the bottom of a goal-line pile to lead that winning, 61-yard drive in the final 2:34. He threw for 310 yards on 24-for-40 passing - and many of those throws were dropped. He ran for 110 yards, the fifth-most total yards ever in a game by a Husky.
It was the sixth-best rushing day by a quarterback in UW history, and second-most in Locker's UW career behind the 157 he romped for against Arizona in '07. His 420 total yards was the fifth-most in Huskies history.
"Locker was phenomenal," USC coach Lane Kiffin said. "He was a great player, and he showed why."
He also showed why he came back to Washington for a senior season, when many thought he could have been a first-round draft choice in the NFL last spring.
"It feels awesome to have the team compete like that for four quarters and then win it in the end," said Locker, who responded from the worst game of his college career in a loss to Nebraska. "The reason I stuck around was to play for this team and these guys.
"It's an awesome feeling. I'm just really proud of our guys and the way we responded."
Oh, Foster did one more thing: He proclaimed Jake was back.
"He's the best quarterback in the nation," he said. "He came back today, regardless of what happened in that last game."
Washington's response to the Nebraska loss and a bye week was 537 yards of offense - the most since that last road win at Stanford. And for all the angst over the Huskies' defense - and stopping the run remains a huge issue -- they allowed USC only 179 of its 484 yards when the game was on the line in the second half.
"We just found a way to take it to them late," safety and senior co-captain Nate Williams said.
Perhaps the most important - and overlooked - part of Saturday's game came on Washington's drive minutes after Locker passed concussion tests from team doctors on the sideline. He re-entered the game and Sarkisian had him hand off four consecutive times. Chris Polk, who ran 13 times for 92 yards and a touchdown, and Jesse Callier gained 28 yards on those settling plays to keep the series going. That allowed Locker time to further regain his bearings before he had to throw and face USC's pass rush again.
"That was a big deal," Sarkisian said. "The doctors said he was fine, but I needed to assess it myself."
Locker ended up throwing incomplete on fourth down to end the drive at the Trojans 38. But he had proven to his coach he was ready for the heroics to come.
Just like in last season's 16-13 home win over USC, Locker completed a mammoth fourth-down pass on the final drive - this time to D'Andre Goodwin on fourth-and-11 from the UW 23 with 2 minutes left.
"I was kind of praying on that one," Folk said when asked what he was thinking on the sidelines before Locker threw to Goodwin.
Then, following a 26-yard run by Polk, Locker sprinted 8 yards on third down. That put Folk in position for what the Huskies now consider an almost automatic three points - regardless of the pressure.
"Folksy's clutch," Foster said. "Deep down, we knew he was going to make it."