By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Whenever University of Washington football coach Steve Sarkisian told his team at halftime on Saturday night, it didn’t work.
Except the part about saving the best for last.
After building a 14-10 halftime lead, and buoyed by a goal-line stand that denied an Arizona scoring drive, Washington came out in the third quarter and played a hapless 15 minutes, giving the visiting Wildcats 17 unanswered points.
It looked like the Huskies were on their way to a dismal home defeat.
Instead, Washington rallied with two touchdowns in the waning minutes for an improbable and absolutely thrilling 36-33 victory at Husky Stadium.
Trailing 33-21 in the games’ late minutes, UW quarterback Jake Locker tossed a 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kavario Middleton to pull the Huskies within five points.
On Arizona’s ensuing possession, Husky linebacker Mason Foster snagged a ball that bounced off the hands and the foot of fallen Arizona receiver Dean Delashaun and returned it 37 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Washington added a two-point conversion on a Locker pass to Jermaine Kearse for a three-point margin as deafening cheers rocked the stadium.
Arizona had one last possession, but UW freshman cornerback Desmond Trufant sealed the outcome with an interception in the final seconds.
The outcome was a remarkable turnabout for the Huskies, who seemed ready to hand the game to Arizona with a woeful third quarter. Despite their four-point halftime margin the Huskies returned in the third quarter and made blunder after blunder, apparently taking themselves out of a game they had every chance to win.
“That was some sloppy football, to say the least,” Sarkisian said referring to the third quarter.
Instead of falling to 2-4, the Huskies evened their season mark at 3-3.
As great as the final minutes for Washington were, the third quarter was, well, ugh. Sarkisian’s Huskies were cheered in their first three home games this season — a hard-fought loss to highly ranked LSU, followed by a lopsided win against Idaho and a stirring upset of No. 3 USC — but in the third quarter Saturday, the boos began.
It started with the opening kickoff. Washington kicked deep to Arizona’s Travis Cobb and the UW kickoff team left a gaping hole in the middle of its coverage. Cobb was eventually pushed out of bounds at the UW 47.
That return gave the Wildcats a short field and Arizona needed just seven plays to reach the end zone. Wildcats quarterback Nick Foles threw a nine-yard pass to wide receiver David Roberts for the touchdown —- and the Huskies were offside to boot, which the Wildcats of course declined.
Washington’s next possession went three and out and the special team woes continued on the next play. UW punter Will Mahan, who was outstanding in the first half, dropped a perfect snap and then tried to pick the ball up and get off his kick. Except he dropped it again and the ball bounced before he kicked it — an illegal play that gave Arizona the penalty distance and the ball at the UW nine.
The UW defense gave up just four yards in three plays, leaving Arizona to settle for a chip-shot field goal.
Washington’s next possession started poorly as kickoff returner Quinton Richardson dropped the ball and had to retrieve it, and ended up with a four yard return to the UW 14.
The Huskies again could not get a first down and Mahan had to punt, this time from his own end zone. He was better this time, but not by a lot — his kick traveled just 27 yards, giving the Wildcats a first down at the UW 36.
Eight plays later, Arizona had another touchdown, this team on a one-yard Foles run. The extra point gave the visitors a 27-14 lead.
There were offensive blemishes too. Locker threw a terrific pass up the sideline to running back Chris Polk circling out of the backfield, and it would have been a big gain. Except Polk let the ball bounce off his outstretched hands.
The only highlight in the third quarter was a 39-yard scoring drive that produced Washington’s third touchdown of the game (the Huskies got a long kickoff return by Polk and an Arizona personal foul penalty). Locker found wide receiver Devin Aguilar in the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown, pulling the Huskies to within 27-21.
But Arizona answered with a drive of its own, resulting in a 29-yard Alex Zendejas field goal that gave Arizona a 30-21 lead.