SEATTLE — The University of Washington football team’s season is still alive.
The Huskies’ hopes of salvaging their season remain intact after they held on to defeat the Stanford Cardinal 27-23 Saturday evening at Husky Stadium.
Saturday’s game was essentially a do-or-die game between two teams that have fallen short of preseason expectations, but still had a shot at rallying to win the Pac-12 North title.
It seemed like Washington (5-2 Pac-12, 7-3 overall) was going to run away with it. The Huskies dominated the first half, building a 21-0 first-half lead as the offense that went missing during last week’s 12-10 upset loss at California re-emerged.
But the game took a 180-degree turn in the second half. Stanford (3-3, 5-4) came out in the third quarter a different team, and the Cardinal pulled within 27-23 with 3 minutes, 24 seconds remaining on K.J. Costello’s 33-yard touchdown pass to Trenton Irwin.
Stanford then forced the Huskies to punt. With one last chance Stanford drove to the Washington 34-yard line, but Costello’s desperation heave into the end zone on the game’s last play was intercepted by Taylor Rapp. Stanford kicker Collin Riccitelli’s missed extra point on Stanford’s final touchdown proved crucial, as it prevented the Cardinal from playing for a field goal on the final drive.
“Last week we lose a tough one, this week we win,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “It comes down to a game of inches and I think there’s some hard lessons in there and some good lessons in there.
“We’re still interesting on offense,” Petersen added. “At times we just click and it looks easy, it’s physical and all those things. At times it’s one thing here and one thing there and we’ll kind of go in spurts and be really smooth, and at times we’re kind of tripping on ourselves. That first half was really good, the second half I thought we could be a little bit cleaner. But one thing I do know is we’ll keep working very hard to clean that up.”
Washington quarterback Jake Browning epitomized those two halves. Browning, who was benched the previous week, played well in the first half, going 12-for-18 for 128 yards and a touchdown. However, he was tentative during the second half as he was just 4-for-9 for 66 yards.
“I think Jake did a great job,” Petersen said about how he thought Browning bounced back from his benching. “I knew Jake would respond out there, I knew he would not flinch, he didn’t flinch during the week and he’s a competitor. I’m really pleased with how he played.”
By winning the Huskies kept their fate in their own hands. If Washington wins its final two regular season games it will win the Pac-12 North and earn a berth in the conference championship game.
Though it didn’t end up determining the outcome, the turning point came at halftime when someone flipped a switch. Washington had a toothless three-and-out on the first drive of the second half, bringing back the spectre of the previous week’s offensive ineptness and causing the crowd to groan in restlessness. It only got worse for Washington from there, and had Drew Sample not recovered Myles Gaskin’s fumble at the Husky 35-yard line with 3 minutes remaining it might have been a different outcome.
Myles Gaskin, Washington. The Huskies’ all-time leading rusher and Lynnwood native missed the previous two games because of a shoulder injury. But he returned Saturday and didn’t miss a beat as he finished with 148 yards rushing on 28 carries and scored one touchdown.
Byron Murphy, Washington. The cornerback had a big-time game as he finished with an interception, a pass defensed, seven tackles and blanket coverage throughout. He did give up the touchdown to Irwin late in the game that got Stanford within four, but that was a perfectly-thrown ball.
Greg Gaines, Washington. The defensive tackle provided the game’s best moment for Washington when he dived to intercept a pass batted at the line of scrimmage by Ben Burr-Kirven. The resulting celebration on the Washington sideline was bigger than Gaines’ huge 316-pound frame.
K.J. Costello, Stanford. The Cardinal quarterback could do nothing in the first half, but he came on strong in the second half to finish 29-for-43 for 347 yards and two touchdowns, though he was intercepted three times.
Kaden Smith, Stanford. The Cardinal tight end caused all kind of problems with his height as he hauled in eight passes for 197 yards and a TD.
In addition to Gaskin, who’s a Lynnwood native, Kyler Gordon, an Archbishop Murphy High School graduate who’s a true freshman defensive back for the Huskies, made his collegiate debut. Gordon appeared on kickoff and punt coverage, making a nice tackle on kickoff coverage in the fourth quarter. The Huskies will still have the option to redshirt Gordon if he plays in four games or fewer. Stanford has no Snohomish County natives on its roster.
Washington has two games remaining in the regular season, and the Huskies still have plenty to play for. On Nov. 17, following a bye, the Huskies play their final home game when they host an Oregon State team that’s in last place in the Pac-12 North. Then the following Friday the Huskies face archrival Washington State in Pullman for the Apple Cup in what could be the game that decides the Pac-12 North champion.