Bishop Sankey runs for two touchdowns, Keith Price completes 17 of 22 passes in his final UW game, and interim coach Marques Tuiasosopo gets the Huskies their ninth win in a triumphant, inspired cameo as head man.
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SAN FRANCISCO – The bass was blaring so much in the San Francisco Giants clubhouse the storied baseball team's commemorative pennants were about to shake off the walls.
Huskies chanted and danced and hugged and shouted, players left shaken by a sudden coaching change to begin this month ending it as unified -- and as exhilarated -- as any Dawgs in a decade.
Marques Tuiasosopo walked down the short hall in the clubhouse. One of the proudest leaders in interim-coach history then raised both arms triumphantly toward the absolute rager going on inside.
Never has nine wins felt so good. Or this rowdy.
"We wanted it!" Tuiasosopo shouted after Washington beat Brigham Young 31-16 in the Fight Hunger Bowl on a redemptive Friday night on a baseball field at AT&T Park.
"And we DID it!"
Coach leaves abruptly. Interim coach with no head-man experience takes over for the bowl game. New coach no player really knows then takes over full time -- but not yet.
Their 1,800-yard back Bishop Sankey gets 95 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries before watching Jesse Callier run for him in the fourth quarter while Sankey was sidelined with a hand injury that left him unable to hold the ball. Record-setting quarterback Keith Price leaves the game in the third quarter after a hit to the ribs, an interception and an injection that failed to kill the pain.
These proud, resilient and resourceful Huskies persevered through all that to finish with their most wins in a season since 2000.
Sankey’s two, record-tying scores, John Ross’ supersonic, 100-yard kickoff return, Hau’oli Kikaha’s three sacks and just plain grit got UW to the inspired win. It proved this team's resolve is as deep as its talent.
"We made history," Price said.
John Timu had 14 tackles at middle linebacker, and then a game-clinching interception with 2 minutes left for Washington (9-4), which endured the tumultuous month to finish with the program’s most wins since Tuiasosopo was the Rose Bowl Most Valuable Player to end UW’s 11-1 season of 2000.
Chris Petersen, named Steve Sarkisian’s replacement as the Huskies’ coach three weeks ago, was not here. He chose to leave this game in Tuiasosopo’s hands before Petersen takes over full time on Saturday.
Great choice. These Huskies came out inspired for their life-long Dawg as their interim head man.
Junior tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, minutes before he declared this was his final game as a Husky and that he is entering the NFL draft this spring, led a Gatorade dumping onto the head of a crouching Tuiasosopo as the final seconds clicked off.
"To see the guys on the field laughing, some guys having tears of joy, hugging, that's why I got into coaching," said the 34-year-old Tuiasosopo. "To see them overcome adversity like this ... they are inspiring. They brought it for two straight weeks. And they were rewarded tonight with the way they played."
“How about our guys here, and this coaching staff?” Tuiasosopo said on the field immediately after the game. “Nine wins! ... I’m fired up for them. When all that went down, they regrouped. They wanted to finish as winners. They wanted to finish with nine wins. And they did.”
As Sankey took the trophy as offensive Most Valuable Player of the game, the Husky fans here roared: “One more year!”
The junior is contemplating his own entry into this spring’s NFL draft. He says he will make his decision "in the next week or so" after consulting with his family and Petersen.
Kikaha was the game’s defensive MVP after nine tackles, three tackles for loss, the three sacks and one fumble recovery. Other than that, the junior defensive end didn’t do a whole lot.
"I'm proud," he said on the field as he recieved his MVP trophy.
Price, the senior who leaves with 10 school records for passing including most career touchdowns (75, eighth-most in Pac-12 history) and career completion percentage, hit on 17 of 22 passes for 123 yards in his final game of a remarkable five years at UW. He threw the TD pass to Seferian-Jenkins on a secondary read, tried to play through what he thinks might be a broken rib from a hit in the third quarter, then took an injection at the end of the third period but did not return. Cyler Miles, his apparent heir for 2014 under Petersen, finished the game for Price.
Price and Sankey led Washington to the most yards it’s had in 124 years of football during this season, 6,491 yards. And Price completed the Huskies' turnaround from 0-12 in 2008 when he first committed to UW, to 5-7, then through three consecutive seven-win seasons to this.
"I'm proud of how I'm leaving the program," he said, his breath halted by the rib pain. "It's better than when I got here."
Price was the quarterback for the last three of these four consecutive bowl games, the Huskies’ longest bowl streak since eight in a row ended after the 2002 season.
In the first half, Sankey did it again: Breaking ankles and breaking runs for yet more touchdowns.
Sankey’s two touchdown runs of 11 yards plus Ross’ electric, 100-yard kickoff return past stunned BYU Cougars had the Huskies up 21-16 at halftime.
Sankey’s second scoring run was a jaw dropper, a start-and-stop dash from behind right tackle to around right end. The junior finalist for the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back this season raced past BYU defenders that were left behind as still as lampposts. That made it 21-13 late in the half.
"I don't know how he did that," Price marveled. "He was amazing."
Sankey’s two scores left him with 20 rushing TDs this season, four behind Corey Dillon’s school record from 1996. Sankey now has 38 total touchdowns for his career, tied with George Wilson (1923-25) for most in UW history.
And to think, Sankey only became a starter in Week 2 of last season after Callier blew out his knee.
Ross took off on just the second 100-yard kickoff return in UW history. It was actually 102 yards from where the freshman bolt took the kickoff inside one end zone all the way to the other in front of what usually is the Giants' left-field wall in the second quarter, but NCAA official statistics only recognize 100 yards even if a return starts in an end zone.
The Cougars barely got a swipe at Ross on the electrifying return.
"I told my guys all I needed was one block," Ross said with a small smile.
After that stunner, BYU chose pooch kickoffs — and Washington’s speed even burned the Cougars on those. Callier ran a short kick back 47 yards to the BYU 35 to set up Sankey’s second TD.
The biggest problem for the Huskies was missed tackles on defense, specifically in the secondary after BYU catches quick throws by Taysom Hill. Timu had a dozen stops by halftime, many because quarterback Hill (who finished with 133 yards on 31 carries, was running right at him inside.
Kikaha had two sacks to end BYU drives in the opening half. The junior finished with 13 sacks this season, second-most in Washington history, tied with Ron Holmes in 1983 and 1.5 behind Jason Chorak from 1996.
Not too shabby coming off two reconstructive knee surgeries in as many years. Or not.
"Not to be cocky or anything like that, but I expected more," Kikaha said.
Kikaha delivered the game’s biggest hit, a shoulder-to-the-chest blow that dropped BYU receiver Cody Hoffman as he was releasing a reverse pass late in the half. Hoffman, who had eight receptions repeatedly burning UW over the middle, stayed down before being helped from the field by trainers. He wasn’t on the field with BYU’s offense to end the half but somehow returned from the crushing blow to catch four more passes in the second half. But Hoffman had what would have been a second BYU touchdown go through his hands in the third quarter, while perhaps still not fully himself in the wake of Kikaha's annihilating hit.
Price started his final game as a Husky 12 for 16 passing. He completed five of seven throws on UW’s 12-play drive that began the game and ended with Sankey’s first 11-yard touchdown.
From that point on, it was clear the Huskies weren't playing as if they were affected by having had three head coaches in the last four weeks.
"Man, I just think Coach Tui is 100 percent invested in this program," Sankey said of his December leader who doesn't know where he will be working in January or beyond. "We can tell he cares.
"And it's awesome."