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College Football – A Season of 2 Games, One Becomes Abject Heartache, the Other Extreme Joy

This is the story of one college football team’s season in just two games – one was abject heartache and the other extreme joy. The team was the University of Washington this season.

Charles Dickens famously wrote this phrase in his novel “A Tale of Two Cities” – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”, and Husky football players lived through both of these events in reverse order.

The Huskies finished their 2008 season with an 0-12 winless record. They opened their 2009 season at home against the then 11th-ranked Louisiana State University Tigers. After losing 14 straight games in two seasons, the Husky faithful could be forgiven for expecting the worst.

Washington surprised everyone, and especially LSU, by taking the kickoff and walking down the field to score a touchdown. The Huskies were boosted by new head coach Steve Sarkisian, who would quickly become known as “Sark” and gain celebrity status among the western Washington sports community.

Late in the LSU opener, the Huskies won the ball movement statistical battle but lost the war, 31-23.

In their next home game against the Idaho Vandals, the Washington Huskies basically scored on their first 5 possessions to win away, 42-23, and break their 15 game losing streak.

In their third game of the season, again on their home turf, something close to a miracle happened – Washington upset then-3rd-ranked Southern California 16-13 on a 22 field goal. yards by Erik Folk with just 3 seconds to go. Game.

A 2-1 start got the Seattle Huskies talking and even the nation talking due to Southern Cal’s huge success (at least 11 wins and BCS Bowl appearances for 7 straight years) and high ranking in the surveys.

The Huskies then hit the road for their first away game of the year and came up against a rejuvenated Stanford Cardinal team and their 6-foot-1, 237-pound senior running back Toby Gerhart, who s rushed 200 yards and exposed the Huskies. ‘ inept tackling skills.

Washington’s talented but inexperienced young players couldn’t stop Gerhart, a ram who simply ran through and through the Huskies.

Stanford was a huge disappointment for the Huskies after their upset victory over Southern Cal, and another road trip to South Bend, Indiana to face the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame was looming. This is where our two game season story really begins.

There is no richer college football program than Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish have won 11 national championships, have 12 undefeated seasons and another 10 seasons with at most one loss or draw, produced more All-Americans than any other school, produced 7 Heisman Trophy winners and have the coach with the best record in history – Knute Rockne has won 105, 12 and drawn 5 in 13 years while guiding the Fighting Irish to 6 national championships.

Washington players who Googled “Notre Dame” might quickly be intimidated by its legend, lore, and tradition. Queuing up at center 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 remained grounded in reality. As bad as Washington’s tackle is in defense, Notre Dame’s doesn’t look much better and a seesaw battle of wills ensues.

With less than a minute remaining in the 3rd quarter, Notre Dame recalled their storied tradition of stopping Jake Locker from scoring on two stealth attempts by the quarterback from the 1-yard line; the Huskies had to give up the ball with Washington scoring 24 and Notre Dame 19. Had the Huskies scored, they would have gone up 31-19 and possibly broken Notre Dame’s back.

It was a bitter pill for Jake Locker – Washington’s most talented and versatile player (Husky coaches said Locker could play 7 different positions on the court) – to swallow. He had carried a lousy Washington team practically on his back for two years, and now his offensive line couldn’t even back the Irish 6 inches.

Then Chris Polk, the Husky’s surprise redshirt running back, appeared to give the Huskies a 30-22 lead with a 6-yard run with 7:07 left, but after a review he was ruled out. on the half-meter line. It was a travesty as Polk had scored, but someone forgot to give the replay official a better look; perhaps he was a fan of the Notre Dame cabinet.

On 1st down from the Notre Dame 1-yard line, Polk lost a yard as the Fighting Irish line held. On the 2nd try, Locker passed incomplete. On 3rd down and 2nd Locker rushed in and the Irish line held again. On 4th down, Notre Dame held again but was penalized by one yard, and Washington had another series of downs.

On the 1st down, Polk rushed again and the Irish held again. On 2nd down, Washington was penalized 5 yards. On the 2nd down repeat, Locker passed 5 yards to fullback Paul Homer and the Huskies were again 1 yard from the score. On 3rd down, Locker rushed again and again, the Irish line held firm. On 4th down, Washington was penalized 5 yards, and on repeat on 4th down, Washington would settle for a field goal, making it 27-22 Huskies.

Incredibly, the Huskies had 6 chances to score on the Irish from 2 yards or less, and the Irish defence, which hadn’t been playing well all day, held on. Polk, who was stopped on two of the attempts, would finish the day with 136 rushing yards, a career high for the redshirt rookie.

Notre Dame responded immediately with a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to go up 30-27.

With 1:20 left in the game, Locker – the greatest quarterback to don a jersey at the University of Washington since Marques Tuiasosopo in 2000 – calmly marched his Huskies down the field and Erik Folk scored a field goal. from 37 yards to tie the game at 30 and send it to overtime.

Tuiasosopo is the son of former NFL defensive lineman Manu Tuiasosopo and the older brother of NFL guard Zach Tuiasosopo and Seattle Mariners 3rd baseman Matt Tuiasosopo. Jake Locker is in good company.

Notre Dame quickly scored the first in overtime to move up 37-30, then Washington’s offensive line, which had been down 6 plays, allowed Locker to be sacked for 10 yards, and Locker threw three incomplete passes . His final pass, a 33-yard pass to the 1-yard line, was caught by D’Andre Goodwin, who suffered a concussion after receiving two vicious shots from Notre Dame defenders on the goal line.

The inglorious ending left Locker, Goodwin, the entire team and coaching staff with a big case of abject heartache. After fighting calmly like the warrior he is, Locker was so overwhelmed and emotional that he couldn’t make it to the post-game press conference.

(Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series.)

Copyright © 2009 Ed Bagley

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