But in the final 15 minutes — plus a very important final second of the third period — the Huskies scored two touchdowns to stun Stanford on Thursday night, upending the eighth-ranked Cardinal 17-13 at CenturyLink Field.
In a scene reminiscent of the victory over USC three years ago, fans flooded the field in celebration after the final seconds ticked off the clock.
“This is a good win against a very good football team,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. “I’m proud of our kids. They deserve it. They worked their tails off, they battled, they competed, and they played smart football.
“I’m proud of this one because this isn’t our most complete football team right now (because of injuries),” he added. “And I’m proud of this one because outside of me and the guys in that locker room, and maybe my wife, I don’t know who else thought we’d win it.”
An hour earlier, such an joyous outcome seemed unlikely. The Huskies had been stymied by the big, physical Stanford defense, which held Washington to just three points in three quarters — less that all-important one second, that is.
But in a game-changing play, the Huskies closed a 13-3 deficit on the final play of the third quarter — the ball was snapped just as the game clock was ticking off the final second — with a 61-yard touchdown run by running back Bishop Sankey. It came on a fourth-and-1 play from the UW 39-yard line, with Sarkisian electing not to punt and instead calling an off-tackle play for Sankey.
Sankey hit a huge hole on the right side against a Stanford defense that was crowded at the line of scrimmage to deny the Huskies that single yard. Sankey slipped through one tackle and sidestepped the safety, and was suddenly on his way to the end zone with no defenders nearby.
But the Huskies still trailed by three points, and a late fourth-quarter drive into Stanford territory was looming as a make-or-break possession.
It paid off handsomely for the Huskies as quarterback Keith Price, on third-and-2 from the Cardinal 35, found wide receiver Kasen Williams in the right flat. Williams broke one tackle and won a footrace down the sideline for the go-ahead touchdown.
“Kasen’s heavy,” Sarkisian said. “Over time tackling him can take a toll on you. He’s like a big tailback. And (on that play), sure enough, he breaks a tackle.”
Washington’s defense still had to make one final stand in the closing minutes. The Cardinal reached the UW 34, but on fourth-and-4 a long pass down the right sideline was intercepted by Husky cornerback Desmond Trufant.
The Huskies were still looking at a punt in the final moments, but Stanford defensive lineman Ben Gardner jumped offsides and Washington was able to take a knee to run off the remaining seconds.
“We just kept fighting throughout the game,” Sankey said. “Credit to Stanford, they’re a great team. But we just kept believing in ourselves. And we just kept fighting until the end.
Washington won despite being pushed around for much of the game by a Stanford defense that was bigger, stronger and more physical up front than the Huskies. Price, in particular, was hurried and harassed throughout the game, and rarely had the time in the pocket that his counterpart, Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes, was given.
“He took a lot of shots tonight,” Sarkisian said. “That’s an excellent defensive front. They’re physical and they’re very well coached.”
Yes, Washington’s effort was hardly flawless, and the Huskies will need to improve heading into their next Pac-12 contest — a road game at Oregon on Oct. 6.
“There’s plenty of stuff in this game, believe me, that we’re going to have to fix,” Sarkisian said. “But this was our Pac-12 opener and we had an opportunity to play at home in front of our fans in a great environment. I think our guys are going to enjoy it, which they deservedly should.
“But these guys are hungry. That’s a hungry group. We’ll get back on the horse (at practice) on Saturday and start preparing for Oregon.”
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