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College Football – A Season of 2 Games, One Becomes Abject Heartache, the Other Extreme Joy
This is a story about the life of a college football team’s season in only two games-one was an abject heartache, and the other an extreme joy. The team was the University of Washington this season.
Charles Dickens penned this famous line in his novel “A Tale of Two Cities”-“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .,” and the Husky football players experienced these two events in reverse order.
The Huskies ended their 2008 season with a winless 0-12 record. They opened their 2009 season at home against the then 11th-ranked Louisiana State University Tigers. Having lost 14 straight games over two seasons, the Husky faithful could be forgiven for expecting the worst.
Washington surprised everyone, and especially LSU, be taking the opening kick-off and marching down the field to score a touchdown. The Huskies were fired up under new head coach Steve Sarkisian, who would quickly become known as “Sark” and gain celebrity status among Western Washington’s sporting community.
At the end of the LSU opener, the Huskies won the statistical battle of ball movement but lost the war, 31-23.
In their next game at home against the Idaho Vandals, the Washington Huskies essentially scored on their first 5 possessions to win going away, 42-23, and break their 15-game losing streak.
In their third game of the season, again on their home turf, something just short of a miracle happened-Washington upset then 3rd-ranked Southern California 16-13 on a 22-yard field goal by Erik Folk with just 3 seconds left in the game.
A 2-1 start made the Huskies the talk of Seattle and even the nation because of Southern Cal’s enormous success (at least 11 wins and BCS bowl appearances for 7 consecutive years) and high ranking in the polls.
The Huskies then hit the road for their first away game of the year and ran smack into a rejuvenated Stanford Cardinal team and its bruising 6-foot-1, 237-pound senior running back Toby Gerhart, who rushed for 200 yards and exposed the Huskies’ inept tackling skills.
Washington’s young, talented but inexperienced players could not stop Gerhart, a battering ram who simply ran through and over the Huskies.
Stanford was a huge letdown for the Huskies following their upset win over Southern Cal, and looming ahead was another road trip to South Bend, Indiana to face the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. It is here that our story of a season of two games really begins.
There is no college program in football more storied than Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish have won 11 national championships, have 12 undefeated seasons and 10 other seasons with at most one loss or tie, have produced more All-Americans than any other school, have produced 7 Heisman Trophy winners, and have the coach with the best record in history-Knute Rockne had 105 wins, 12 losses and 5 ties in 13 years while guiding the Fighting Irish to 6 national championships.
Washington players who Googled “Notre Dame” could quickly become intimidated at its legend, lore and tradition. When lining up at middle linebacker on game day, one could easily imagine seeing ghosts coming out of the backfield in search of another conquest.
But this year’s version of the Washington Huskies stayed grounded in reality. As bad as Washington’s tackling was on defense, Notre Dame’s did not appear much better, and a see-saw battle of wills ensued.
With less than a minute left in the 3rd quarter, Notre Dame summoned up its legendary tradition to stop Jake Locker from scoring on two quarterback sneak attempts from the 1-yard line; the Huskies had to give up the ball with the score Washington 24 and Notre Dame 19. Had the Huskies scored, they would have gone up 31-19 and perhaps broken Notre Dame’s back.
It was a bitter pill for Jake Locker-Washington’s most talented and versatile player (Husky coaches have said that Locker could play 7 different positions on the field)-to swallow. He had carried a lousy Washington team virtually on his back for two years, and now his offensive line could not move the Irish even 6 inches back.
Then Chris Polk, the Husky’s surprise redshirt freshman running back, appeared to give the Huskies a 30-22 lead with a 6-yard TD run with 7:07 left, but after a review he was ruled down on the half-yard line. This was a travesty as Polk had scored, but someone forgot to give the replay official a better set of eyes; perhaps he was a closet Notre Dame fan.
On 1st down from the Notre Dame 1-yard line, Polk lost a yard as the Fighting Irish line held. On 2nd down, Locker passed incomplete. On 3rd down and 2, Locker rushed and the Irish line held again. On 4th down, Notre Dame held again but was penalized 1 yard, and Washington had a new set of downs.
On 1st down, Polk rushed again and the Irish held again. On 2nd down, Washington was penalized 5 yards. On the repeat 2nd down, Locker passed for 5 yards to fullback Paul Homer and the Huskies were again 1 yard from scoring. On 3rd down Locker rushed again and again the Irish line held. On 4th down Washington was penalized 5 yards, and on the repeat 4th down, Washington would settle for a field goal, making it 27-22 Huskies.
Incredibly, the Huskies had 6 opportunities to score on the Irish from 2 yards out or less, and the Irish defense, which had not played well all day, held the line. Polk, who was stopped short on two of the attempts, would end the day with 136 yards rushing, a career best for the redshirt freshman.
Notre Dame immediately responded with a touchdown and 2-point conversion to go up 30-27.
With 1:20 left in the game, Locker-the greatest quarterback to put on a jersey at the University of Washington since Marques Tuiasosopo in 2000-calmly marched his Huskies down the field and Erik Folk made a 37-yard field goal to tie the game at 30 and send it into overtime.
Tuiasosopo is the son of former NFL defensive lineman Manu Tuiasosopo, and the older brother of NFL fullback Zach Tuiasosopo and Seattle Mariners’ 3rd baseman Matt Tuiasosopo. Jake Locker is in good company.
Notre Dame quickly scored first in the overtime to go up 37-30, and then the Washington offensive line, which had been 6 plays late in getting it done, allowed Locker to be sacked for 10 yards, and Locker threw three incomplete passes. His last pass, a 33-yarder to the 1-yard line, was pulled in by D’Andre Goodwin, who suffered a concussion when receiving two vicious hits by Notre Dame defenders at the goal line.
The inglorious ending left Locker, Goodwin, the entire team and coaching staff with one big case of an abject heartache. After calmly fighting like the warrior he is, Locker was so crushed and emotional that he could not appear at the post-game press conference.
(Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of a 2-Part Series.)
Copyright © 2009 Ed Bagley
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