With dreadful dreary skies late on a Thanksgiving weekend in Berkley, Washington Husky superstud and senior quarterback Jake Locker delivered a game-winner that would have made NFL Hall of Famer John Elway proud.
Reminiscent of the classic Hollywood movie The Longest Yard starring Burt Reynolds, the script called for a final drive that would end one yard short with four seconds left. One last play to either win or lose the game. Even Adam Sandler's cheesy remake couldn't downgrade the emotion and drama of such a moment.
And although this one didn't involve convicts or corrupt prison officials, at least one executive at FOX Sports deserves to be incarcerated for that terrible broadcast team fans at both schools were sentenced to endure on television. Fingernails on chalkboards would have offered more insightful analysis.
The weather for the game was awful, with drippy cold and wind interrupted by periodic downpours. Hail storms sandwiched general bad-weather mayhem, with flags and fan hair flapping in the wind.
The prize to the victor would be the right to participate in a mediocre bowl game against a mediocre future opponent. But for the formerly storied program at the University of Washington that hasn't seen a bowl game since 2002, the game could not have been more important.
The contest started with a California Golden Bear kickoff returned to the 28. Washington's offense soon established a logarthic and uninspired look, running out of gas at the Cal 47 for their first of many punts. Not to be outdone, the Golden Bears answered with their own five play stinker before they too punted back.
Two series to start the game, with two teams showing no energy or emotion whatsoever.
The Huskies followed with an even worse three and out, highlighted by an 81 yard hanger by backup punter by Keil Rasp.
California responded with an eight play drive that stalled at the Husky 34 after a failed fourth down. Washington took over at the same spot, but again went three and out after a near-interception when Locker threw into triple coverage.
As the first quarter mercifully came to an end, the Golden Bears had the ball after a Husky punt, but they too punted again after five plays.
Great defense or terrible offense by both teams? It was hard to say. But it was as dull as a theology lecture.
Finally the Huskies would put together their most productive drive of the day, picking up a quick 15 yards on two Chris Polk runs. But on the third play, Husky freshman Jessie Callier fumbled after ripping a nifty 20 yard scamper. The ball rolled 15 yards between the legs of a half dozen huffing and puffing interior lineman before the Golden Bears fell on it at their own 29. Drive over.
Immediately Cal's quarterback Brock Mansion dropped back and heaved a bomb down the left side, in an attempt to break the log jam, but Husky cornerback Quinton Richardson picked off the pass at the Husky 28.
Washington quickly moved back up the field, but again were bedaffled with a drive-ending interception in the end zone by California’s Marc Anthony. Twelve minutes left in the first half and still no points by either team.
Six plays later the Golden Bears again punted, which the Huskies punted back after seven plays, which California punted back after five plays, which the Huskies punted to them after a measly three plays.
An ugly afternoon was producing an even uglier defensive struggle, which could not have been amusing to those hiding under plastic tarps while trying to avoid whipping winds and sideway rains that were ripping flags off their posts. It was a miracle people actually stayed to watch this mess of a game.
As the first half drew to a close, California mounted their best drive of the day, moving 45 yards on three plays, ending with a pass across the middle as time ran out to Keenan Allen on the Husky 25.
Not-to-worry, two seconds were generously added back by sympathetic referees, as Washington Coach Sark fumed on the sidelines. The Golden Bear’s Giorgio Tavecchio drilled a very pretty 53 yard field goal to end the half and give his team a three – zip halftime lead.
After all that sweating and grunting by both teams, a measly three total points were scored in the half, but none by the Huskies.
Both the Huskies and Golden Bears were playing adequate, but hardly worthy of first rate television coverage.
Good thing too, because fans at home were treated to a blurry mess with no first down markings, nor excitement of any kind, rendering memories of enthusiasm one might find at a Jr High chess match.
Fox Sport’s crack announcing team of Jason Stiles and Greg Papa reminded fans, in nauseating irritating fashion (and for at least 48 separate times), that the interior of California’s Memorial Stadium would be razed in the off season. It would begin at the end of this very game, and retrofit with $350 million worth of upgrades.
Great news for stadium paraphernalia collectors, but not all that interesting to half-inebriated home viewers.
Meanwhile their roving sideline reporter spent most of his time hiding in a stairwell to keep his handsome designer haircut dry, negating any kind of sideline perspective one might find from, you know, actual football players.
And back at the game, as fed-up fans turned off the sound of their tv broadcast and opted for the more adult radio audio, announcers reminded fans that neither team held an advantage due to a stiff defense on both sides of the ball. The Huskies could have easily been up by two touchdowns, had they not twice turned over the ball.
Back on TV, Coach Sark, while being interviewed by a cute middle-aged real estate agent with dripping make-up, put it more bluntly by saying “We’ve just GOT to quit shooting ourselves in the foot!”
Locker was 8 for 14 for 52 yards in the first half, while the Golden Bear’s 6-5” Brock Mansion totaled 55 yards passing. And yet Cal’s running back Shane Vareen had ripped out 71 yards rushing on 12 carries, which is about the only part of the Golden Bear's offense showing any life.
As the second half started, California put together a nine play drive, but ended up punting into the back of the end zone.
But on the Huskies’ first drive, they quickly went 80 yards on one single play as Locker hit D’Andre Goodwin with a long drifting pass at mid field, who after tipping the ball up and to himself, raced to fifty yards to the end zone for a quick and stunning 7-3 Husky lead.
California answered with an ugly three and out, dominated by a couple of Trufant drillings in the the backfield.
After their punt, the Huskies too, went three and out, and were further crippled when backup punter Kiel Rasp was clipped in the shoulders by California’s Spencer Hagan.
The Golden Bears then rolled out yet another three and out, punting back to the Huskies.
On the third play following, Husky quarterback Jake Locker was stripped by the Cal’s Mike Mohamed, which teammate Cameron Jordon picked up and scampered the remaining dozen yards for a Golden Bear touchdown.
The Huskies, elated with their quick lead, were now just as quickly deflated as they suddenly trailed 10-7 with 3:34 left in the third quarter. But when Jesse Callier returned the kickoff 55 yards down the right side to the Cal 40, Washington was back in business.
After gaining only a handful of yards in six plays, the Huskies settled for a 38 yard field goal to tie the game at 10 as the third quarter came to a close.
Still the Huskies were playing well, helped by a non-productive California quarterback who up to that point had managed a paltry 75 yards on 10 of 18 completed passes.
Furthermore, the Huskies were benefitting from a California coaching staff who were obsessed with an extremely conservative game plan. They kept QB Mansion on a very short leash while most of their offense centered around Shane Vareen and his running abilities.
To start the fourth quarter, the Golden Bears got to the Husky 37 on a twelve play drive that consumed five minutes, and took the lead on another brilliant field goal by Giorgio Tavecchio from 48 yards out with just under 11 minutes left, during a downpour.
And as both the skies and the Husky hopes darkened, Washington was forced to punt again nine plays later, with their third-string punter who barely got the ball to travel 31 yards. A fortunate roll with just over six minutes left in the game aided the kick.
As the downpour turned into a nasty hailstorm, California went three and out, and it was at this point that Jake Locker decided to take his team and carry them on his back. Literally.
Locker hit fullback Austin Sylvester for a short gain, then Kearse for six yards. The Huskies set up in a shotgun formation for the next play but Locker flanked out left on a direct snap to Chris Polk. Polk took the ball up the middle for a first down with three minutes left in the game.
On the next play, Locker dropped back and got immediately into trouble, but rolled away and finally found Jermaine Kearse cutting across the middle at the 20 yard line. He drilled him with a near-perfect bullet just beyond the fingertips of defender Tyler York.
With two minutes left UW’s Jesse Callier rumbled five yards up the middle on a quick handoff, and Locker then pounded the ball to the six yard line with another gritty up-the-middle run.
Followed by a Locker keeper off the left tackle to the one yard line, with 1:29 left in the game and the clock ticking.
Two more plays went for no gain.
It was fourth and a yard with four seconds left. Trailing by three points, the Huskies had a choice. They could kick a field goal to tie the game. Or if sister-kissing seemed unromantic, they could opt instead for an “all-in” play. Failure meant losing the game.
Their own “Longest Yard.”
As every Husky fan expected they would, they decided to gamble with astounded yet uneducated tv announcers gasping in horror. Locker handed the ball off to Chris Polk on the right side, who easily scampered into the end zone with no time left. The offensive line had opened up a 10 foot gulf.
The Huskies had won the game. Bowl game chances were still alive. The extra point was forfeited midst chaos and Husky fans rushing the field in celebration.
Jake Locker had delivered in a clutch season-saving drive.
After last season and upon making his decision to forego the NFL for another year, Jake Locker said that he didn’t want to make a decision that he would regret after his playing career was over. He didn't want to be an old man questioning why left college early.
In the future the same aging old man rocking on the porch, may have two decades of fading professional football memories to chide away the retirement years. But it is likely the memories of this afternoon won’t be one to fade.
It is the drive that little kids in back yards across the nation imagine themselves leading as their friends pounce. Passes across the middle that must be caught. Plunges up the middle for first downs that must be successful.
Only for Jake Locker, this time it was the real deal.
Two years hence from oh and twelve, and the Huskies on the verge of their first bowl game since 2002, led by a quarterback who could have made millions but chose to stay.
Modest goals by Husky standards, who just a decade prior whined about which bowl they went to. But for this team, so bowl-hungry, this game was one for the ages.