By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
SEATTLE — On a night of great challenges — facing an undefeated opponent in a storm of wind and rain — the University of Washington shrugged off both for an emphatic 31-13 Pacific-12 Conference victory over Arizona on Saturday.
And the Huskies won by doing what is becoming their signature — playing well in the second half. Washington, which had an 11-6 halftime lead, drove 95 yards for a touchdown to open the second half, spotted the Wildcats an answering TD, and then broke the game open with two more touchdowns later in the third and fourth quarters.
Afterward, the Huskies celebrated their first 4-0 start since the 2001 season, which was the last time Washington won a conference championship and played in the Rose Bowl.
“I feel awesome,” UW head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “We’ve never been 4-0 since I’ve been here, so that’s pretty cool. There’s work to do obviously, but we’re accomplishing things we obviously haven’t done before.”
“I’ve never been 4-0,” offensive tackle Ben Riva agreed. “This is awesome. It feels great and I am proud of everyone. (Now) we’ve just got to keep it rolling.”
Equally important to those Huskies who played against Arizona a year ago, this outcome avenges a 52-17 loss to the Wildcats in Tucson. Washington was embarrassed in that game, particularly defensively, allowing Arizona 533 yards of offense.
“I wouldn’t call it revenge,” UW quarterback Keith Price said, “but we did kind of owe them something.”
Saturday’s victory, which came in Washington’s league opener, sets up a huge showdown next week against undefeated and fifth-ranked Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif.
“We know that’s a very good football team,” Sarkisian said. “But we’re excited about the opportunity. It’s a chance to go 2-0 in conference play, which I think is really important. We know Stanford will be ready to play, and it’ll be a great game to be a part of it.”
Saturday’s game began in a steady rain that combined with a brisk wind blowing in from Lake Washington. The wind changed direction during the game, occasionally swirling, and the rain sometimes diminished and sometimes stopped altogether. But the weather was still a factor for both teams throughout the contest.
“I don’t know if I’ve been part of a game like that,” Sarkisian said. “I’ve been in games where there’s been rain, I’ve been in games where there’s been wind, but the combination of the two tonight, that was as much as we’ve seen. We just tried to — no pun intended — weather the storm.”
With the conditions making passing a tricky proposition, the Huskies went heavily to their ground game. Running back Bishop Sankey was the primary workhorse, and his 40 carries were a Washington single-game record, surpassing the 38 rushes by Corey Dillon in the 1996 Apple Cup vs. Washington State.
Many of Sankey’s carries were for modest yardage as the Wildcats packed the line of scrimmage. On a blue-collar night of work, he finished with 161 yards and one touchdown, with a long run of 17 yards and just three other carries gaining 10 yards or more.
“The weather had an impact on both teams and made it one of those grind-it-out, meat-and-potatoes games,” Sarkisian said. “Both teams had to run the ball and both defenses knew it.”
Quarterback Keith Price, meanwhile, played well considering the conditions, completing 14 of 25 attempts for 165 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.
“It was tough the first half (when it was raining harder),” Price said. “I was like, ‘Goodness, I’ve never played in that type of weather.’ I just did my best to make the right decisions, to try not to turn the ball over, and to just be efficient and manage the game. That’s all I wanted to do today.”
Washington’s defense was generally good when it counted against the Wildcats. The Huskies yielded long touchdown drives on Arizona’s final possession of the first half and the opening march of the second half, but otherwise kept the Wildcats in check.
And in the fourth quarter, with Washington needing a couple of stops to put the game away, the UW defense halted Arizona once on downs at the UW 41 and with an interception minutes later.
The Huskies followed that interception with a game-clinching drive, capped by Jesse Callier’s 2-yard TD carry with 3:34 to play in the game.
After the game, the UW players and coaches had a joyous celebration in the locker room.
“You would’ve thought we won the Rose Bowl,” Sarkisian said with a smile. “These guys are so excited they went out and played well against a good team and won.”