SAN FRANCISCO — A tumultuous month that started with coach Steve Sarkisian leaving for USC ended with a milestone win for Washington.
Bishop Sankey ran for 95 yards and two scores to tie Washington’s career touchdown record and the Huskies went on to beat BYU 31-16 in the Fight Hunger Bowl on Friday night.
“I can’t say enough about these guys,” interim coach Marques Tuiasosopo said. “They wanted it and through some turmoil they stayed focused, they came together as a team and came here with a purpose.”
Keith Price added a 16-yard TD pass to Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and John Ross returned a kick 100 yards for another score to help the Huskies (9-4) win their most games since going 11-1 and winning the Rose Bowl in 2000.
The game capped a whirlwind stretch for the Huskies that began with Sarkisian leaving. Chris Petersen was hired away from Boise State to take over at Washington, and Tuiasosopo coached the bowl game on an interim basis. The Huskies won just their second bowl game since Tuiasosopo led them to that Rose Bowl win over Purdue 13 years ago.
“We all know what he’s done here as a player,” Sankey said. “It makes it that much easier when a coach leaves when you have a guy like Coach Tui.”
Taysom Hill threw for 293 yards and ran for 133 yards and a score, and Justin Sorensen kicked three field goals for the Cougars (8-5), who had their four-game bowl winning streak snapped.
But Sorensen also missed one in the third quarter after an interception by Robertson Daniel gave BYU prime field position, and the Cougars allowed two long kickoff returns, including one for a touchdown.
“Taysom led our team really well,” coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “He played hard, he played physical. He gave us a great chance to win the game and stay in it. I told my team I was proud of them. I liked how hard they played. Our special teams needed to execute better.”
The defense led the way for Washington, holding the Cougars to four field goal attempts and one touchdown on five drives inside the Huskies 30.
The Huskies were much more efficient on their scoring drives, with Sankey scoring on a pair of 11-yard runs in the first half to give him 38 career touchdowns, tying the school record held by George Wilson (1923-25).
“Bishop has done a great job of carrying us all season,” Price said. “We know we need to feed the horse. He’s been a work horse for us all year.”
Price then led a touchdown drive to open the third quarter, capping it with a well-placed throw to Seferian-Jenkins on third-and-8 to make it 28-16. Seferian-Jenkins said after the game he will leave school early to enter the NFL draft.
“It has nothing to do with coach Petersen,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for him, but ultimately it was a family and financial decision.”
Price went 17-for-23 for 123 yards before leaving with an apparent rib injury in the second half.
Sankey also sat out the fourth quarter because of a hand injury, but it didn’t matter. Backup quarterback Cyler Miles had a 32-yard run to set up Travis Coons’ 45-yard field goal that made it 31-16 midway through the fourth.
A strong defensive effort led by Hau’oli Kikaha (three sacks) and John Timu (14 tackles, one sack and an interception) kept BYU off the scoreboard for the entire second half as the Huskies moved their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage to take away short passes.
“Guys come up and load the box, we need to be able to throw the ball,” Hill said. “As a quarterback that’s what you want. They came down in man pressure, pushed us out of bounds and we missed a few opportunities that way. Not only that but if the protection holds up a little longer, then we give guys on the outside and inside long enough to work the routes and get open.”
Tuiasosopo was aggressive in his first game as head coach, going for it twice in the first quarter on fourth-and-short. Sankey converted the first but was stopped for a 9-yard loss by Kyle Van Noy on the second try.
That was one of the few times the Cougars stopped Sankey, who scored on Washington’s first and last possessions of the first half to give the Huskies a 21-16 lead at the break.
The game made history by being the first ever in the FBS with two female officials. Sarah Thomas was the line judge and Maia Chaka was the head linesman based on their work in Conference USA this season.