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Originally published September 28, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 28, 2008 at 1:48 AM

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Steve Kelley

Jake Locker's injury a crushing loss for Huskies

He knew he had to win this game. He was the team leader and now, more than ever, Jake Locker had to lead. Locker threw a block that wrecked the season.

Seattle Times staff columnist

He knew he had to win this game. He was the team leader and now, more than ever, Jake Locker had to lead.

He had to beat Stanford with his arm, his legs, his head and, maybe most of all, his heart. He had to pound the Stanford linemen with punishing runs between the tackles. He had to throw passes and, yes, he had to throw blocks.

Jake Locker had to be unleashed. Washington had to let Locker be Locker.

His team was 0-3 and needed this game to save another sinking season.

All that mattered was this Saturday night. This was no time to play cautiously. It was no time to think about the future, or think about himself. Washington had to beat Stanford, and Locker had to do whatever it took to win.

Montlake Jake had to be Just Win Jake.

It was too much to ask. And, in the second quarter Locker threw a block that wrecked the season.

He hurt himself making the kind of play leaders make. A Locker-like play. A sacrifice-your-body play.

Down 14-7 and marching for the tying touchdown, Locker threw a block that would have made Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck cringe, helping Jordan Polk gain 27 yards on a reverse.

But two plays later, after throwing a wobbly incompletion, Locker jogged to the sideline and then to the locker room.

He carried his helmet in his left hand, while gingerly protecting his injured throwing hand. And it seemed as if all 61,000 pairs of eyes sadly followed him off the field and into the Husky Stadium tunnel.

Late in the first half, Locker made a play that broke his right thumb and a program that can't take much more bad news without finally toppling, was punched in its gut one more time.

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With Locker watching from the sideline, wearing gray sweats, his thumb tightly wrapped, his face somber as Wall Street, Washington lost to Stanford 35-28.

For the first time in his four seasons at Washington, coach Tyrone Willingham was 0-4 and looking in the face of another disastrous season.

Locker will likely miss six weeks, and it is too much to ask of cool freshman quarterback Ronnie Fouch to rescue the season and save his coach's job.

"There's so many things flying around my young team right now," an introspective Willingham said. "There's stuff flying around right now that could probably cure our national debt."

Locker's loss is crushing. More misfortune for a program and a quarterback who can't seem to catch a break.

It wasn't supposed to be like this.

By now, 17 games into Locker's Washington career, the program was supposed to have turned a corner. This should have been the season of met expectations.

After two-plus years (counting his redshirt season) in the program, Locker should have been surrounded by talent. He shouldn't have felt like he had to win games by himself.

Locker should have been blessed with a bevy of breakaway backs. He should have had a flock of fleet receivers running free over the middle. And, by now, he should have had a defense that could stop teams, make plays on third down and relieve some of the enormous pressure that comes with being a quarterback at Washington.

But the defense isn't getting better. In fact, it feels like it's getting worse. The Huskies allowed 466 yards to Stanford.

The receivers still are learning their routes. And, as good as he looks, true freshman tailback David Freeman is too young to carry too much of the offensive load.

At this point in his career, Locker still is the soul of the offense. He shouldn't have to play with a roster chock full of freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores, but this is his reality. The offense is so young and green, Locker must sometimes feel as old as Brett Favre. He is a wise man among kids.

He shouldn't be forced to score 30 or more points every game, but his defense is so bad even 30 points isn't good enough.

The Locker years were supposed to bring so much promise. But through no fault of his own, there has been more pain than promise.

And now he's hurt. And Fouch is going to be asked to win games in the teeth of the Pac-10 schedule. Win games at Arizona and USC and California. Win games to save Willingham's job.

He is a freshman quarterback in an impatient world and, although he played bravely in defeat, he isn't ready to lead.

Another Washington football season is doomed. Another year with Locker will end without a bowl trip.

And even before the leaves have turned, this season feels as broken as Locker's thumb.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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