Nothing rattles these Dawgs

  • Larry Henry / Sports Columnist
  • Saturday, October 21, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

SEATTLE – The last thing you said before you went to bed Saturday night was: I still don’t believe it.

Isn’t that right? You still don’t, either, do you?

You still think it’s some kind of crazy dream that the Washington Huskies scored 23 unanswered points on three consecutive turnovers and a blocked punt in the fourth quarter to come from 11 points behind to upend California 36-24.

It is a dream. Couldn’t possibly have happened.

Could it? Yeah, it could. And it did.

How it did, well, it begins and ends with those 18-, 19-, 20- and 21-year-old kids on the field.

Some of you may have given up on them and some of us in the pressbox were starting to write the obituaries.

These kids don’t buy into all that gloom and doom. Hey, they still had a quarter to go. Eleven points down? So what’s the big deal?

Games don’t always come down to how flawlessly they’re played. Or how artistically the assignments are carried out.

Sometimes they come down to just how much players want to win.

Call it character, if you like. Keith Gilbertson does.

“It’s a credit to these guys and how resilient they are,” said the Husky offensive coordinator. “Nothing rattles them. That’s a great quality to carry through life.”

It’s a tremendous quality to carry onto a football field.

“Our guys have guts,” Gilbertson said. “They don’t blink. They just keep playing.”

Artistic, they weren’t. Dogged, they were. But then, Husky fans have seen that quality exhibited by many of their teams over the years.

Gilbertson says it boils down to the mere fact that football is very important to these kids. They are more passionate about the game than many kids. He saw that at Idaho, where he was head coach, and he’s seen it at Washington.

Passion will take you a long way. It will make up for youthful mistakes, and the Huskies had many of those, particularly the offense.

The guys in charge of moving the ball were, to put it mildly, not very good for three quarters. Let’s be honest. They were awful.

They had a first-and-goal at the 5 and couldn’t punch the ball into the end zone, had to settle for a field goal. Another time, they took possession at the Cal 12 after recovering a fumble and again got only three points.

They made about every conceivable mistake a team could make. They had false starts. They had holding penalties. They fumbled the ball. They dropped passes. They didn’t make much running room for their backs. They let their quarterback get sacked five times.

They had a drive to start the second half that was as ugly as ugly can get.

It started on the Cal 41 and, 13 plays later, ended on the 4. In between, the Huskies had to call two timeouts. After eight plays, they had been shoved back three yards, thanks to a 12-yard sacking of quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. A personal foul against Cal gave the Huskies a first down at the 5, but three plays later, they had only moved one yard.

On that third-down play, Justin Robbins couldn’t hold onto a pass in the end zone. One thing to take into consideration. The pass was tipped. And Robbins is a pure freshman. One year ago he was catching passes for his high school team.

He will make that play someday, maybe the next time a tipped pass comes his way, maybe not. But as he gets experience, he’ll get better and better. He’s pretty darn good right now. Saturday, he had six receptions for 69 yards, and during one drive, he caught three passes in a row, for 9, 11 and 25 yards. This from an 18-year-old.

“We’re not real experienced at some spots,” Gilbertson said. “We’re not gonna go up and down the field (easily). … We’re gonna come to some bumps in the road. There’s no smooth sailing like in ‘91 (the national championship year).”

The Huskies started three true freshmen, two on offense. Rich Alexis gained 78 yards from his tailback position and scored two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score with 6:24 to play.

Nose tackle Larry Tripplett caused the fumble that led to that touchdown. Tripplett admitted that the defense “had come out a little flat” to start the game. “But we did what we had to do in the fourth quarter,” he said.

The fourth quarter. That’s where the emphasis has been placed since the first session of two-a-days. “It’s unfortunate that it sometimes takes us until the fourth quarter to get it done,” he said, “but I’ll take it any way we can get it.”

This game had its bizarre moments. Ever heard of three penalties being called on a two-point conversion? You have now. When the Huskies pulled to within 24-22 at 6:49 of the fourth quarter, they went for the tie, but didn’t get it. On the play, the Huskies were called for a face mask violation while Cal was hit with holding and having too many players on the field. Those blasted offsetting penalties again.

But the craziest moments were reserved for the last 10:35, when the Huskies scored the most points since a UW team got 28 in the fourth quarter against Stanford in a 1977 game.

In the end, it came down to a bunch of gutty kids who weren’t about to be denied.

“Since I’ve arrived here, I’ve been amazed at the character of the University of Washington football players,” head coach Rick Neuheisel said. “It just matters a great deal to the Washington Husky football player. Across the board this program personifies competitiveness. It’s just something that exists when you put on that gold helmet.”

As the man said, the game is important to these kids.

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