UW football saves its best for last, enters offseason happy
Now the Washington Huskies have something to hold on to during those cold winter months when they are rudely awakened by an alarm clock...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Now the Washington Huskies have something to hold on to during those cold winter months when they are rudely awakened by an alarm clock with the command to go do some sort of football-related drill.
"This is huge," said UW quarterback Carl Bonnell after the Huskies beat the host Washington State Cougars 35-32 to win the Apple Cup on Saturday. "For the next nine months, until August when we report back to camp, this is what's going to drive us through all those offseason workouts. We'll have this feeling to reach back on."
If they hadn't won the Apple Cup, the only feelings would have been of emptiness and puzzlement, wondering how a 4-1 start had turned so wrong.
Now, they can ponder a 5-7 record that was so close to being so much better.
"We didn't get what we wanted [a bowl game, the team's stated preseason goal]," said UW coach Tyrone Willingham. "But I think there's still some positive signs. I've said all along I'm not into moral victories, but still, I think you have to acknowledge some of the things this team has done."
The biggest thing it did, it turns out, happened last.
UW had lost six straight games before heading to Pullman and was in danger of losing three straight to WSU for the first time in the 99-game history of the series. More dire, the 20-3 loss to Stanford a week earlier, coupled with the "suddenly senior" controversy, was causing all kinds of chatter about the direction of the program.
But winning the Apple Cup will quiet all the talk.
"A week before, we were written for dead and our young men just continued to battle, continued to fight," Willingham said. "And even when it got tight, they never lost their confidence, never lost their will and just kept battling and battling and were fortunate enough to come out with the win."
They got it in the most unconventional (for them, anyway) of ways.
The Huskies had been a grind-it-out team even in their best of times this season. But Saturday they turned to the big play, getting 220 of their 380 offense yards on three plays (a 77-yard TD run by Louis Rankin and TD receptions of 69 yards by Marcel Reece and 64 yards by Cody Ellis), scoring on a blocked punt and scoring another TD after an 87-yard kickoff return.
Nobody seemed to know for sure where all the big plays came from. But many pointed to a Friday night meeting when the seniors, in an annual tradition the night before the last game, spoke to the rest of the team about what they'd learned during their careers and what it meant to be a Husky.
"I think we fed off that emotion," said linebacker Scott White, one of the seniors who spoke.
Added Bonnell: "They said some really good things and really brought football into perspective and why you play this game. This game was for all of them. They've been through a lot and we had to send them out on the right foot."
Also a factor was WSU's propensity to blitz on defense. The Ellis touchdown, in particular, came when the Huskies caught UW in a blitz.
Ellis' catch is one that figures to go down in Husky Apple Cup lore forever, along with Corey Williams' winning TD in 2003 and Paul Skansi's catch that helped win the 1981 game.
Ellis bobbled a pass that was behind him, and reached down and grabbed it just before it hit the ground. He then ran 64 yards for the score. UW was down 7-0 at the time, early in the second quarter, and admittedly needed something good to happen.
"I think it kind of sparked everything," Ellis said. "We got pumped up and were like 'hey, we can do this.' We all just started believing."
Ellis also admitted UW might have caught WSU disbelieving.
"I definitely don't think they thought we were a good team," Ellis said. "They were probably like 'they're the Huskies, they just lost six in a row and just lost to Stanford.' They probably thought they had it easy. Cake. Just walk right into a bowl game. They've got to be a little shocked."
The question is where do the Huskies go from here.
They will return 13 of the position players who started Saturday (six on offense, seven on defense.) They will have to replace both starting guards, Clay Walker and Stanley Daniels, who took almost every snap all season, and their two best defensive backs — cornerback Dashon Goldson and strong safety C.J. Wallace.
But they will also welcome young talent such as quarterback Jake Locker, whose route to the starting quarterback job might have gotten a little more complicated by Bonnell's performance Saturday, and running back J.R. Hasty.
"We just have to keep working and smiling during the difficult times," Willingham said. "Because we know at some point we are going to be good again."
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