Oct. 17, 2010
REMINDER: You can catch the Coach Sarkisian Show Monday at 4:30 p.m. on KJR 950-AM, live from the Don James Center. The public is welcome.
by Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - The latest escape from these Houdini Huskies shows how far they've come in just two seasons under coach Steve Sarkisian.
Resilient Washington (3-3, 2-1 Pac-10) is tied for second place in the conference at the halfway point of its regular season entering next weekend's game at No. 15 Arizona (5-1, 2-1), yet another nationally televised test against a ranked opponent for UW.
Saturday night's zany, 35-34 win in two overtimes against then-24th ranked Oregon State also showed how far Jermaine Kearse has come.
In just a few days.
His week began answering questions from his own coaches and the media about a problem with dropped passes. It ended with Kearse setting a school-record with four touchdown receptions against the Beavers, including the one in the second overtime which produced the game-winning points.
In between, quarterback Jake Locker professed unwavering confidence in his 6-foot-2, 205-pound force from Lakewood, Wash. Locker said he didn't have to say anything to Kearse.
Here's why: He broke past Beavers cornerbacks and their man-to-man coverage all Saturday night. Post routes, flag routes, sharp out routes - Kearse was unstoppable. He caught nine passes in all from Locker, for 146 yards. It was his third 100-yard receiving day this season. His nine touchdown catches through six games are one more than he had in all of 2009.
"It feels good," the junior said minutes before late Saturday night became Sunday morning. "I'm not saying I'm complacent. I still had a couple of drops. I'm always just going to try and get better. I'm going to be out there again this week catching extra balls. I'm going to keep working harder."
That's been the theme for the Huskies since last January, when offseason weight training began: Work harder to finish close games.
It was the mandate that fueled these Dawgs all winter, spring and summer. They relived maddening losses last season at Notre Dame in overtime, then at Arizona State and UCLA. Those lost, late-game opportunities could have turned a 5-7 season into a bowl one.
Senior linebacker Mason Foster proudly said "we play with a lot of heart."
The Pac-10's leading tackler had 12 more stops Saturday night - including an amazing one people were still talking about Sunday. Foster pulled down Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz in the open field by yanking on his arm to force a Beavers punt in the fourth quarter.
"We were always close last year, and we worked on it all offseason: Finish games," Foster said. "Even with coach Ivan (Lewis, UW's strength and conditioning coach) in the weight room, we stressed finishing.
"It's finally starting to show right now."
Indeed it is. Washington's two games decided on the final play this year are both victories.
Two weeks ago at USC, Locker ran and passed for 420 total yards and led the Huskies on a gritty drive to the game-winning field goal by Erik Folk that gave the Huskies their first road win in three years.
Saturday, Washington blew a 21-0 point lead, then twice stormed the field to celebrate a win. The first time was earlier in the second overtime, when they thought the game was over following an incomplete throw by Katz on fourth down and Washington leading 35-28. Instead, it became a pass-interference penalty on cornerback Desmond Trufant in the end zone.
The Huskies couldn't see the lone penalty flag thrown by the back judge jogging from the center of the field across the back line of the end zone. All they saw was the official closest to the play signaling incomplete pass and not throwing a flag.
"I mean, unbelievable," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said of the abrupt mood swing and need to regroup. "I guess sometimes when you get to celebrate twice, it's even better."
Oregon State, which had beaten Washington six consecutive times, scored on the next play with a 2-yard run by Jacquizz Rodgers to cut the Huskies' lead to 35-34. Beavers coach Mike Riley called time out, pulled his kicking team off the field where it had been readying for a tying PAT and went for two points and the win instead.
"I thought they were pretty hot," Riley said of a Washington defense that got tough in the second half for the third consecutive game. "I thought we were having a hard time with them, so we thought we could win the game right there."
Huskies linebacker Cort Dennison said he was expecting a quarterback draw from Katz, who had already run 11 times. So Dennison stayed in the middle of the field playing shadow. When it became apparent Katz was staying in the pocket to throw, Dennison found the biggest target near him: 6-foot-2, 252-pound Joe Halahuni.
Dennison made a leap and dive at the Beavers' tight end in the end zone, causing the pass to clang off Halahuni's chest and onto the purple turf.
Then came bedlam. Jubilant Huskies ran onto the field with no particular destination but each other. Screaming fans in the homecoming crowd of 65,235 hugged each other and pounded the metal benches to make Husky Stadium shake over one of the wilder, more memorable victories in the storied history of the 90-year-old house on Montlake.
"A huge win," Dennison said of the nearly four-hour thrill ride. "Oregon State has had our number the last couple years, so to come out and show how much heart we have and never give up is just a great feeling.
"These are the kind of momentum wins that can really be meaningful towards a strong finish."