By John Boyle Herald Columnist
SEATTLE — While most of his teammates celebrated around the Apple Cup trophy, Keith Price stood alone not far away in Husky Stadium’s west end zone.
Before he could join in the celebration following Washington’s 27-17 victory over Washington State, the senior quarterback needed a moment to collect himself; to reflect on the ups and downs of a college career that will end in a month or so with a bowl game. So a few yards from a mob of giddy teammates, Price paced back and forth, helmet in one hand, game ball in the other, enjoying this moment while also remembering the pain he felt following last year’s Apple Cup.
“I just needed a moment to myself,” Price said. “From last year to this year, I remember it was around the same time, my eyes were bloodshot red, I couldn’t believe what was going on that season; it felt like I couldn’t catch a break. I worked so hard, and words can’t even describe the feeling that I felt.”
Playing in his final home game, Price didn’t turn in his best performance as a Husky, but it might have been the most fitting finale possible. His career has been full of ups and downs, from a spectacular sophomore season to an injury and turnover-plagued season last year, to a very impressive senior season. So on Senior Day, why not play a game that had a bit of his junior year in it — those two first-half turnovers — and plenty more of “good Keith” which helped spark a third-quarter turnaround?
Price missed last week’s game with a shoulder injury, and backup Cyler Miles played so well in a blowout over Oregon State that some wondered if a fully healthy Miles was the better option for the Huskies on Friday. But Price showed Steve Sarkisian enough in Thursday’s practice to convince his coach to let him play, and when asked if he had any doubt during the week he would start this game, Price gave a quick one-word answer: “No.”
Yet as determined as Price was to play, the emotions of his career, along with limited practice reps this week, contributed to him losing a fumble while scrambling late in the first quarter, then throwing an interception when he and Austin Seferian-Jenkins weren’t on the same page in the second quarter.
“I think the first half was just hard for Keith,” Sarkisian said. “There’s so much going on. He’s coming off an injury, he didn’t play last week, he wants to play great. He was just a little bit off, not so much physically, but he was actually off a little mentally.
“Boy, he really regrouped there in the second half and did some good stuff, made some great throws.”
Sarkisian noted that this was an emotional day for Price, who was one of the first players the coach visited after being hired five years ago. At that point, Price had committed to Washington, but had watched his future team go 0-12 and fire its coach, and other schools were showing interest.
Then in 2011, Price took over for Jake Locker, one of the most popular players in UW history, beginning that aforementioned up-and-down career. He then nearly had a strong senior season derailed by this most recent injury.
“There’s so much emotion that goes into it, so I don’t blame him for being a little antsy or out of sorts,” Sarkisian said. “But he really did a nice job, being a fifth-year senior, of settling down and playing a nice second half.”
Price said the first half, in which he lost a fumble and completed five of eight pass attempts for 72 yards and an interception, “was far from one of my better halves.”
“I’m too old to be making those type of mistakes,” he said. “I knew I messed up right off the bat. I think it was the whole atmosphere, my last home game, and just trying to do too much.”
But after settling down at halftime, Price went on to complete eight of 12 second-half passes for 109 yards and the 18-yard touchdown that tied the score early in the third quarter, sparking Washington’s comeback. In the fourth quarter, Price put the game away with a 2-yard stroll into the end zone, followed by a little dance. It was about as perfect an ending Price could have hoped for after his previous Apple Cup ended with an overtime interception.
“It was awesome,” Price said. “I told a couple of teammates that if I got into the end zone today I was going to do a little celebration dance, so that’s what that was at the end of the run. It’s just me having fun. I had a lot of fun, especially in the second half.”
Price’s third-quarter touchdown pass was the 74th of his career, adding to the UW record he set early this season, and he ranks second in school history with 8,796 passing yards. But more than anything, Price was most proud to walk off the field Friday having helped his team to eight wins — with a ninth still possible — after three straight 7-6 seasons.
“We were a decent team,” Price said of his early years at Washington. “But we have a much better team now, a championship-caliber team, especially in the future. That was my only thing was helping turn this program around. That was my biggest goal and I achieved it.”
Like Friday’s game, Price’s UW career wasn’t perfect. But like Friday’s game, the end result of his Washington tenure was a team better off for having Price as its quarterback.
“It’s been a great journey for Keith,” Sarkisian said. “I think the last five years of his life are going to shape him for the next 60 to 70 years of his life. He’s been through a lot. He’s been through a lot physically, he’s been through a lot emotionally, but every time that guy shows he has tremendous character and he stands tall and doesn’t waver. He never points the finger. We’re proud that he’s our guy.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com.