By JOHN SLEEPER
STANFORD, Calif. – This should be a tale about a pair of improbable comebacks. About the wildest of wild finishes.
It should be about the ninth-ranked Washington Huskies’ 31-28 Pacific-10 Conference victory over Stanford, attained with a 22-yard pass from Marques Tuiasosopo to freshman wideout Justin Robbins. About a final Husky drive in which Tuiasosopo needed just three passes and 36 seconds to travel 80 yards to wreck a game Stanford team in near-monsoon conditions before a meager, sopping 31,300 at Stanford Stadium.
And what about Stanford?
All the Cardinal did was to stage a stunning rally of its own, storming back from a 24-6 deficit with less that six minutes left to surge ahead, 28-24, with 53 seconds remaining.
But the game, exciting as it was, meant little. Next to nothing, really.
Washington’s postgame locker room was silent, the team’s thoughts, emotions and prayers on strong safety Curtis Williams, who remains at Stanford Hospital with what doctors say could be a serious injury to his neck and possibly his brain. Williams was hurt on a helmet-to-helmet collision with Cardinal tailback Kerry Carter in the third quarter. He was taken to Stanford Hospital, where he remains under observation (see related story).
To players and coaches, Washington’s 4-1 Pac-10 record and 7-1 overall mark meant little.
“All that pales when you’re dealing with a young man with whom you’ve you’ve become close, who does everything you ask him to do, who you see making progress not only with his football, but with his life,” UW coach Rick Neuheisel said. “To see him sustain a very serious injury, it becomes very difficult to celebrate the type of win we were just able to achieve.”
While his teammates were leaving the field in victory, Williams was undergoing tests, unaware that the Huskies nearly lost, only to come back.
Williams was unaware that the teams combined for 298 yards and five touchdowns in the last seven minutes. Unaware that Stanford recovered two onside kicks and turned them into 14 points near the end. Unaware that Cardinal quarterback Randy Fasani threw for one touchdown, connected on a throw for a two-point conversion and ran for two more TDs in 4 1/2minutes.
Washington staged another in a series of fourth-quarter comebacks. Of the Huskies’ seven victories, they have fought from behind in six. Indeed, had Washington not ridden Tuiasosopo’s magical arm at the end, it would have anguished over a game it handed to the Cardinal.
Instead, the Huskies find themselves in a second-place tie with Oregon State in the conference standings. In reality, Washington is ahead of the Beavers via their 33-30 win over OSU Oct. 7. The Huskies remain in the hunt for a major bowl, even though their chances for a conference title dimmed with Oregon’s 56-55 victory over Arizona State Saturday.
“I can’t say enough about these guys,” Tuiasosopo said. “They just perservere and play the game they love to play.”
Following Stanford’s go-ahead touchdown – a 2-yard run by Fasani that put the Cardinal up 28-24 with 53 seconds remaining – the Huskies were faced with 80 yards of field and just one timeout.
Then came three plays that will go down as among the most clutch in UW history.
“I didn’t know if Marques could quite see me; I could barely see him,” Robbins said. “There was a lot of linemen in between. The ball went up and it was hanging for a while.”
It was a bitter loss for Stanford (2-3, 3-5), the defending conference champion, which must win its remaining three games to be bowl-eligible.
“I thought we won the game,” Fasani said. “I couldn’t believe they made a comeback. I thought it was the end of the game. We let this one out of our grasp. It was a chance to beat the No. 9 team in the country and we won’t forget it.”
Washington, following its season-long slow start, took a 10-6 halftime lead after falling behind, 6-0.
The high point was an 89-yard scoring drive that lasted 14 plays and 7:10. Reserve tailback Willie Hurst scored on a 17-yard scamper to give Washington a 7-6 lead with 8:15 left in the first half.
It was the Husky defense that came through. Stanford mustered just 90 fist-half yards, and Fasani was just 1 of 5 passing for 4 yards. The Husky secondary took the Pac-10’s leading receiver, DeRonnie Pitts, out of the game. Pitts had eight catches for 71 yards and a TD, all in the second half.
Pitts had 13 catches against USC the previous Saturday.
But after the game, no one wanted to talk about that. The thoughts were on Williams.
“Curtis is a kid who, if you look up “Husky” in the dictionary, Curtis would be there,” Tuiasosopo said. “He’s hard working. Overcomes adversity. We’re happy, but we’re thinking about our teammate and warrior, Curtis Williams.”
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