Two minutes in an otherwise tightly fought football game may have saved the fledgling UW Husky season. It also may have doomed the Bruin career of former Husky coach Rick Neuheisel, judging from the hostility in the LA press at the post-game interviews.
Thursday night before a national ESPN television audience, a first-ever black-clad University of Washington Huskies football team delighted the frigid crowd by shutting down the Bruins of UCLA on the shores of Lake Washington.
In spite of a cold windy night that made the 39 degrees seem like an Artic blizzard, nary a Husky fan left the premises early.
Each fan seemed determined to catch the waning moments of senior quarterback Jake Locker’s stellar career in his final game at the soon-to-be rebuilt Husky stadium.
The UW star, a former blue-chip and nationally rated high school quarterback, has not experienced a bowl game in his four years as a Husky.
Quite a disappointment for a program that hadn’t missed a bowl game in 20 straight years through 2001.
The vast majority of crazed spectators were clad in matching black attire forced upon them as they entered the stadium.
The “blackout theme” was schemed months ago, when optimistic admin folks dreamt of a game with much more national implications than it actually had.
Still, in spite of a mediocre won–loss record, UW was playing for its bowl life by nabbing the first of three desperately needed wins if this senior class was to experience their first-ever bowl game.
Beginning with the game tonight against a determined former Husky coach, who seven years prior had been run out of town midst a knucklehead gambling debacle on college basketball, the Huskies kept fighting and eventually got enough breaks to pull it out.
The game started with a Husky kickoff and two quick three-and-outs by both teams. But the Bruins answered on their second possession with what would be their best drive of the night.
Starting on their own eight-yard line, they crafted a 13-play, six minute and 42 second drive that finished with a nifty 31-yard touchdown romp by Derrick Coleman down the right side. It was 7-0 UCLA with 5:20 left in the first quarter.
UW’s response was less impressive. It almost ended up a one-play catastrophe when Locker hit the Bruins' Tony Dye in the numbers for a near-sure interception and probable TD return, but he graciously dropped the ball.
Three plays later and another short pass behind Anguilar, this time the Bruin’s Aaron Hester picked off Locker at the Husky 31-yard line. But all for naught, because three plays and six yards later, the Bruin’s Kai Forbath missed a 44-yard field goal to the right.
The first quarter ended amidst both teams running dead end drives that ended in punts, with the Huskies getting the better of the field-position battle.
The Huskies got the ball back at midfield, and Chris Polk fought for a quick seven yards off a pitch to the left side. Locker then drilled Jermaine Kearse with a bullet over the middle for a first down on a short-gainer to the Bruin 41.
But a dropped pass, a Polk backfield loss, and a gritty Jake Locker run through the middle that sadly ended a mere yard from another first down, and the Huskies punted back.
The Bruins went three and out from their own 13, and again the Huskies had the ball at midfield. But seven plays later with two ugly Locker misses to a wide-open Kearse, and the Huskies settled for a 53-yard field goal attempt that fell short and right.
UCLA got the ball at the 35 with ten minutes left in the half. Two plays later the Huskies’ Cort Dennison picked off UCLA’s Richard Brehaut at the Husky 38, followed by a Locker long pass to Devin Aguilar over the middle to the UCLA 31.
Eight plays later, Locker rolled left and scored, with help from a pass interference call on Kearse at the five-yard line.
The game was tied 7-7 with six minutes left in the first half.
UCLA punted twice, the Huskies once, and the half ended with Erik Folk missing another long 56-yard field goal to the popular spot of short and to the right as time ran out.
At halftime, the Husky defense had only yielded 117 yards, and the offense led in both rushing and passing yardage 107 to 86 and 58 to 31.
After the Bruins kicked off to start the second half, the Huskies answered with a solid 10-play, 73-yard drive that finished with a Folk field goal from the 27-yard line to give the Huskies a 10-7 lead with 11:06 left in the third quarter.
UCLA’s first possession of the second half ended like their previous two, with a punt after five plays and an agitated Neuheisel chewing out his backup-turned-starting quarterback Darius Bell, followed by another Husky punt, and then a UCLA punt with 3:27 left in the third quarter.
The quarter ended with the Huskies driving to the 41 before stalling, after two potentially game-changing plays got called back by suddenly flag-happy refs; including a fantastic Chris Polk 50-yard run to the 10.
UCLA had the ball on their own nine yard line to start the fourth quarter, but then the game turned into a punt fest with both teams failing to move the ball twice and punting.
But the game changed for good when the Bruins Darius Bell was picked off by UW’s Quinton Richardson, who returned it for a TD with a mere 6:22 left in the game to make the score 17-7 Huskies.
With the Bruins now desperate to move the ball, Neuheisel went to his third quarterback of the night, walk-on Clayton Tunney, who three plays later was picked off again at the UW 42 with 5:42 left.
UW's sensational freshman running back Jessie Collier rumbled for 34 yards to the Bruin 2-yard line before Chris Polk finished off the game and perhaps the Rick Neuheisel era at UCLA, with a run up the middle for another Husky TD.
The score was 24-7 with just over four minutes left in the game. Fourteen points in two minutes, and Huskies were still alive for a possible bowl game.
The Bruins tried stay alive with an eight-play drive in the final minutes, but finally gave up and punted with a couple left, and the Huskies killed the clock with knees.
Going into this contest the Huskies had yielded an average of 220 yards rushing per game while the Bruins averaged 195 on offense.
Tonight, the Huskies reversed the trend by rushing for 254 yards, and the Bruins are headed home after the first Husky sweep of LA schools since 1996.
The Huskies offensive line dominated the Bruins while quadrupling their rushing yardage.
But it was those two minutes late in the fourth quarter that decided this game and kept alive the dreams of Husky fans still hoping for a bowl game to finish Jake Locker’s collegiate career.
Almost laughable goals compared to the Don James years when Husky fans whined about having to play in the Sun Bowl, but monumental nonetheless considering where the program was only several years prior!
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