Washington head coach Jimmy Lake watches his team during practice on Oct. 16, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Washington head coach Jimmy Lake watches his team during practice on Oct. 16, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Is Huskies’ playoff shot over before 1st game?

With its opener against Cal canceled, UW has only six games to prove it belongs in contention.

By Mike Vorel / The Seattle Times

Who knew Washington football fans would be left longing for lightning?

On Sept. 7, 2019, that’s what they got — the first documented lightning delay in Husky Stadium history. At 7:51 p.m., with 9:46 remaining in the first quarter of a scoreless game, everything stopped. The teams, UW and Cal, retreated to their locker rooms. Fans were instructed to abandon the mostly-metal bleachers; some chanted “Go Huskies!” while huddling under the overhangs. As rain puddles populated the artificial turf, a few fans hopped the railings and ran zigzags on the field. At one point, the overhead lights went out altogether; lightning strikes lit up the essentially empty stadium.

And after the two-hour, 39-minute lightning delay ended, the letdown began. Cal ran for 192 yards and 5.1 yards per carry, with 122 of them (and two touchdowns) coming in a calamitous third quarter. Cal kicker Greg Thomas drilled a 17-yard field goal with eight seconds remaining to seal a 20-19 win. The Huskies’ 15-game home winning streak was unceremoniously snapped in a rain-soaked stadium at 1:23 a.m.

It was a memorable, miserable night on Montlake.

And what happened this week was so much worse.

On Thursday, less than 24 hours after Cal announced that one of its players had tested positive for COVID-19, UW’s season opener was canceled and declared a no-contest. Head coach Justin Wilcox stated that Berkeley Public Health’s contact tracing protocols dictated an entire Cal position group remain in quarantine.

“Obviously (it’s a) disappointing day for us,” Wilcox said on Thursday afternoon. “I’m sick for our players and feel for them. I feel for the guys at Washington. Everybody was looking forward to this game. Everybody was really excited to play. It’s a tough pill to swallow, quite honestly. We take the virus seriously and have done so for seven months.”

Of course, the most significant concern must be directed at the unnamed player who tested positive — who Wilcox reported is asymptomatic. And it’s also possible the two teams could make up the game on Dec. 19, a weekend reserved for the Pac-12 title game or other as-of-yet unannounced conference match ups.

But this remains an undeniably disappointing moment for UW’s players, coaches and fans — who have prepared for three separate season openers that were eventually canceled. And for Jimmy Lake, the challenge — as his head coaching debut continues to be delayed — is to keep his team focused on the task at hand, which is now an opener against Oregon State inside Husky Stadium on Nov. 14.

It’s to ensure his players believe there’s still something to gain from — at most — a six-game season.

“I think the Pac-12 champion should definitely end up in the playoff,” Lake said in a Pac-12 media webinar last month. “If somebody goes 7-0 or 6-1 and plays really good football, I think you also have to pay attention to how we’re playing and watch those games close. I see a lot of teams ranked right now that gave up 60, 62 points on defense (in a game) and I don’t know if you’re a voter how you still rank them in the top 25 when their defense is giving up points like a basketball game. So you’ve got to be able to watch the games.”

Therein lies the problem: when it comes to Washington, no one’s been able to watch them play. UW and Cal — as well as Arizona and Utah, whose game was also canceled Friday after the Utes reported too many positive COVID-19 tests and quarantined players to field a competitive roster — are set to be the final FBS teams to embark on a 2020 season. According to a source, UW explored the possibility of playing an impromptu game against Arizona this weekend, but it was impossible to organize on such short notice.

And meanwhile, the top four teams in the Associated Press poll — Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame — have already completed a combined 21 games. In the minds of the playoff committee members, that certainly has to matter.

Granted, given the conference’s national reputation, it was always going to be difficult for a 7-0 Pac-12 champion to wiggle its way into the College Football Playoff. But now, for the Huskies (and Cal, and Utah, and Arizona), hope may have been extinguished before they ever took the field.

Just don’t tell that to the Huskies’ relentlessly optimistic head coach.

“Let’s get the 2020 Season Started in Husky Stadium! The way it was meant to be!” Lake tweeted on Thursday. “The Dawgs are more than ready! #BowDownToWashington”

The fans, too, have long been ready to watch the Washington Huskies play.

But they’ve also become all-too accustomed to delays — lightning or otherwise.

Talk to us

More in Sports

Seattle Storm fans cheer during the game against the Los Angeles Sparks at Angel of the Winds Arena on Friday, June 21, 2019 in Everett, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Storm to welcome limited number of fans for games in Everett

Seattle is allowed to host up to 2,000 fans per game this season at Angel of the Winds Arena.

White line on Green grass sport field for sport concept
Prep results for Wednesday, May 5

Prep results for Wednesday, May 5: (Note for coaches/scorekeepers: To report results… Continue reading

AquaSox's manager, Louis Boyd, Funko Field at Everett Memorial Stadium in Everett on July 28, 2019. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
AquaSox top Hops in 11 innings for 1st win of season

Everett scores on a passed ball in extras and hangs on to beat Hillsboro 3-2.

FILE - Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf, right, runs to score a touchdown ahead of Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive back Jamel Dean during the second half of an NFL football game in Seattle, in this Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, file photo.  Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf is explosive off the line of scrimmage. But Sunday, May 9, 2021, he will venture into a new sort of lane to test his speed on a different sort of line, one that's filled with Olympic-caliber sprinters. (AP Photo/Scott Eklund, File)
Seahawks’ Metcalf to test speed against top sprinters

The wide receiver will run the 100-meter dash at the USA Track and Field Golden Games on Sunday.

Kevin Clark / The Herald

***Silvertips Special Sections*****
Yan Khomenko signals for substitution Sunday night at Xfinity Arena in Everett, Wa on September 6th, 2015

Sports:  Silvertips Special Section
Shot on: 09/06/15
Silvertips top rival Thunderbirds in shootout

Gage Goncalves scores the shootout winner as Everett beats Seattle 4-3.

The Herald’s Athlete of the Week poll.
Vote for The Herald’s Prep Athlete of the Week for April 26-May 2

The Athlete of the Week nominees for April 26-May 2. Voting closes… Continue reading

Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher John Means, right, hugs catcher Pedro Severino after Means threw a no-hitter in the team's baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Wednesday, May 5, 2021, in Seattle. The Orioles won 6-0. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Mariner no-hit by Orioles’ Means

Seattle’s offensive woes catch up to it in a big way in a 6-0 loss to Baltimore to end its homestand.

Emerson Hancock warms up Saturday afternoon during practice at Funko Field in Everett on May 1, 2021. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
AquaSox preview: It’s prospects galore as Sox begin a new era

The AquaSox are loaded with talent as they enter their 1st season at the minor leagues’ High-A level.

AquaSox's manager, Louis Boyd, Funko Field at Everett Memorial Stadium in Everett on July 28, 2019. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
AquaSox drop season opener to Hops

Everett’s offense musters just four hits in a 4-2 loss to Hillsboro.

Most Read