Saturday, December 4, 2010

Huskies clinch bowl game! Beat Cougars 35-28!

By Kshell

The Washington Huskies began the year with one goal in mind and that was to reach a bowl game. The Huskies(6-6,5-4) defeated the Washington State Cougars(2-10,1-8) in the Apple Cup 35-28 to clinch a bowl berth and third place in the Pac-10. The Huskies were led by Chris Polk rushing for a career high 284 yards on the game while Senior Jake Locker hit Jermaine Kearse for a 27 yard touchdown pass that proved to be the game winner. The Cougars put up a great fight rallying from being down 28-14 to tie the score up. Ultimately it was the Huskies who took advantage of their last drive and clinch a bowl berth. It was a sweet victory for the Huskies who hit rock bottom in this very stadium two years ago.

When the game started it looked like this game would make my top five Huskies blowouts game not my top five Huskies Apple Cup wins. The Huskies on their first offensive possession had the ball on their own two yard line. The first play would set the tone as Chris Polk would rush up the middle for a 13 yard gain. Later in the drive on their own 23 yard line facing a third and two the Huskies called a run for Locker out of the shotgun and he busted it 77 yards for a touchdown.

Unfortunately for the Huskies there was a holding penalty. So after running 77 yards and celebrating Locker had to come all the way back and face a third and 12. Locker would hit Devin Aguilar for a gain of 14 to pick up the first down. The Huskies would then run the ball seven of the next eight plays including five in a row to set up a crucial fourth and one from the Cougars 17. Locker would fake the toss and keep it and was met in the backfield for what should have been a loss of three and looking like Locker as a freshman he avoided the loss and ran for a gain of six yards for a first down. The Huskies would then feature Chris Polk some more and cap the drive when Polk would score from two yards out to put the Huskies up 7-0. The Huskies would run 17 plays for 98 yards which included 11 rushing plays for 60 yards. Chris Polk on the drive carried the ball eight times for 54 yards with one catch of nine yards. Jake Locker on the drive was five for five for 48 yards passing on the drive.

The Huskies offense then struggled after the quick start and had to settle for some punts. The defense was dominating the Cougars though early on. After the Cougars drove 34 yards on nine plays on their opening possession they would go three and out four consecutive series. The Huskies in the second quarter looking like they would waste another great field possession facing a fourth and seven from the Cougars 37 yard line would call for a fake punt, the punter who wasn't even on the team in August Kiel Rasp would hit Jermaine Kearse for the first down and Kearse would run for a 30 yard gain. The Huskies next play didn't waste any time as Locker started to run right, then stop turn and run left as he out ran the Cougars defense for the seven yard rushing touchdown to give the Huskies a 14-0 lead.

The Huskies had a chance to put the game away on their next possession they drove once again in the Cougar red zone. The Huskies would get down to the 10 yard line when Locker would hit Kearse for a 40 yard pass. The Huskies would committ another bad penalty backing them up to the 15. Facing a second and goal from the Cougars 10 yard line Locker would throw an interception in the end zone. Instead of at worst having a 17-0 lead with ball first the Cougars got their first taste of momentum. The Cougars would capitalize on that momentum when Jeff Tuel would complete four of four passes for 44 yards while rushing for 19 yards on the drive. Tuel would cap the drive and halftime by hitting Jared Karstetter for a five yard touchdown. All of a sudden the Cougars pulled within 14-7 at halftime despite being dominated for the first 28 minutes of the half.

The second half would start off with some fireworks. The Huskies facing a third and five from the Cougars 34 yard line when Locker would hit Kearse on a slant which Kearse out ran everyone for a 66 yard touchdown reception. With that touchdown pass Jake Locker tied Cody Pickett for first place all-time in Husky history for passing touchdowns. The Huskies would take a 21-7 lead and once again appeared to be in good shape. Tuel and the Cougars offense had other plans.

The Cougars would march down the field behind Tuel's passing to Daniel Blackledge. Tuel would hit Blackledge for 34 yards on the drive including a 13 yard touchdown to cut the lead to 21-14. The Huskies would then have to respond to the Cougars score after trading punts the Huskies would go back to the gameplan once again which was to feature Chris Polk.

The Huskies Chris Polk from their own 25 yard line would rush for a career long 72 yard run down to the Cougars three yard line. Then Jesse Callier would rush for his first career touchdown only to be called back due to an illegal formation. The Huskies would then get a false start so instead of first and goal from the three yard line it was from the 13 yard line. Locker would hit D'Andre Goodwin for a 12 yard gain to set up a third and goal from the one. Polk would get stuffed on the run as the quarter ended. To start the fourth quarter Steve Sarkisian who likes to be agressive decided to go for it instead of kicking the field goal. The Huskies would call a fly sweep which Locker and Callier fumbled the exchange the Cougars recovered the fumble and ran it back 33 yards to midfield as Locker was chalked up to a minus 15 yard rushing play.

The Cougars really had momentum going for them with the ball at midfield. Facing a third and two Tuel would complete a pass to Karstetter for what many thought was a gain of one. Originally the ball was spotted for a first down. After further review he was short so the Cougars then faced a fourh and one from the Huskies 42, Paul Wulff and his offense decided to try and throw the ball. Tuel saw nobody was open then tried to run the ball but was stopped for a loss of one. The Huskies wasted no time to take back momemtum when Chris Polk would break a 57 yard run for a touchdown to give the Huskies a 28-14 lead.

The Cougars would respond to that score like they have all game with a score of their own. The Cougars would drive 70 yards on 10 plays. Tuel on the drive was three for four for 43 yards and would score a one yard rushing touchdown on third and goal from the one yard line. After stopping the Huskies the Cougars would score again to tie up the game at 28-28. The Cougars continued to slice up the Huskies defense driving 73 yards on six plays. Tuel once again was hitting his passes completing three for three passes for 74 yards including a 16 yard touchdown to Marquess Wilson to tie up the score.

After a penalty on the kickoff Jake Locker and the offense took over on their own 12 yard line with four minutes to go in the game. This was the moment that Locker came back for his Senior season for. What many had forgot though was the Huskies also have a talented running back who will be playing in the NFL shortly in Chris Polk. After Locker had a 10 yard run to their own 24 yard line, Chris Polk had another long run of 36 yards to the Cougars 40 yard line. The Huskies were in a tough position on third and six from the Cougars 36 yard line. Locker would scramble for a gain of five and a half yards falling just short of the first down. At first Sarkisian was going to kick the 48 yard field goal but after calling timeout he decided to go for it on fourth and one. The Huskies didn't mess around handing the ball off to Chris Polk who ran for 15 yards to the Cougars 16. Then Polk would for four more yards giving him 284 yards on the day. On that run though despite being in field goal range Ryan Tolar committed a stupid personal foul penalty backing the Husies up to the Cougars 27 yard line making it second and 21. That set up the Apple Cup moment for Jake Locker and Jermaine Kearse.

After another costly penalty that made the field goal a tougher kick Locker didn't let it come to that. Locker pump faked the corner then hit Jermaine Kearse for a beautiful touchdown from 27 yards out with under a minute left in the game. The Husky crowd started going crazy as did Jake Locker who made a beautiful touchdown pass to Kearse. With that pass Locker tied Brock Huard for second place all-time in passing touchdowns at the University of Washington history. The Huskies defense led by Senior Mason Foster who had 14 tackles on the game recorded back to back sacks on the Cougars final drive. The game ended with Tuel throwing a hail marry interception to Nate Fellner to clinch the victory and a bowl berth for the Huskies.

From 0-12 just two years ago to a bowl game is quite the turnaround this fan base is happy to see. Sarkisian when he was hired promised quick results as he saw there was some talent on this team mainly with Jake Locker who missed eight and a half games during that 0-12 season including the Apple Cup loss. The Huskies led by Chris Polk who finished with 29 carries for 284 yards and two touchdowns was 12 yards shy of Hugh McElhenny who ran for 296 yards against the Cougars in the 1950 Apple Cup. The Huskies passing duo of Locker and Kearse had great games as well. Locker was 14 of 22 passing for 226 yards with two touchdowns including the game winner and an interception. He also added a rushing touchdown and what doesn't show up is the 77 yard rushing touchdown he had that was called back. Kearse would put his name next to Reggie Williams, Jerome Pathon and Mario Bailey as receivers who had big days against the Cougars. Kearse finished with six receptions for 178 yards and two touchdowns.

The Cougars can settle for another moral victory as they played the Huskies tough but the cold reality is they lost 10 games for the third straight season. Jeff Tuel finished 25 of 35 passing for 298 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. He would also add a rushing touchdown. Had the Cougars won I would be talking about their passing duo which featured Cougars receiver Daniel Blackledge finishing with seven receptions for 132 yards and a touchdown. Paul Wulff is now 5-32 as Cougars head coach and is just 3-32 against Division-1 opponents. Wulff is also just 2-25 in Pac-10 game on the year, the team did improve but by how much? Wulff has to figure out a way to turn those moral victories into wins.

This day belongs to the Huskies though. Last year they were so close but couldn't close the day going from 0-12 to 5-7. While this year featured more blowouts than last season this team did know how to finish. When the team was 3-6 and the fans were showing concerns the Huskies rallied and won three in a row including two on the road. This late season surge brings up memories of their last bowl appearance when in 2002 the team was 4-5 won three in a row including two on the road. The Huskies under Locker in years past were 2-11 in games decided by seven points or less while this year they are 4-1. The Huskies are finishing games and their reward will be a trip to San Diego for a bowl game. These Seniors will be known as the class that turned the program around from 0-12 to the Holiday Bowl!


- Chris Polk is a beast and hopefully he gives the Huskies another year. Like last year fans waited to see if Locker came back or not we'll be doing the same with Polk. Unlike the Locker situation the Huskies have running backs who can take over. Polk is a power back who despite what people kept saying gets strong as the game goes on. I've been saying all year to feature Polk and today the Huskies did just that which resulted in a win. When Polk has over 20 carries in a game this year they are 4-0. Polk also became the first running back since Napoleon Kaufman(1992-94) did it three years in a row to rush for over 1,000 yards in back to back seasons. Sarkisians goal for Polk on the season was to maintain a YPC average of 5.5 and Polk averaged just that rushing for 5.5 yards a carry for 1,238 yards with eight touchdowns.

- Jermaine Kearse had some monster games this year. He had troubles being inconsistent but nobody doubts his big play potential. He followed up a great sophomore season with a terrific junior season. Kearse on the year had 62 receptions for 1,001 yards and 12 touchdowns. Kearse is another junior who might think about the NFL, hopefully he comes back. With him and Kasen Williams next year that would make Nick Montana or Keith Price's life a lot easier.

- This game shouldn't have even been close. I know this makes me sound like a fan but those are the facts. The Huskies scored 35 points and had almost 600 yards of total offense on the game. The Huskies had two touchdowns called back, 100 yards in penalties, dropped an interception that would have been a touchdown, turned the ball over twice in the red zone. Even with all that the Huskies still won on the road. This game reminded me of the USC game where the Cougars couldn't stop the Huskies at all.

- Nobody can call Jake Locker a loser anymore. Cougar and Duck fans love to bash on this poor kid and I simply don't understand it. Close your eyes and imagine a kid who said no to over 40 million dollars, said no to millions when he was 18(baseball draft), chose to stay home when he could have gone anywhere, is a good christian/role model and had the worst coaching staff in his first two years. If that was your quarterback you wouldn't be so quick to judge. Funny how Cougar fans love to bash on Locker's record but brag up Tuel in the same sentence. This isn't to bash on Tuel who is a wonderful quarterback and during his Senior year I won't mock every bad game he has.

Locker starting record wasn't very good we all know that it was well documented he is only 14-25 as a starting quarterback. Although the road was bumpy he did what we all thought he would do. He turned around the program when most people would have done the easier thing and leave. He could have pulled a Matt Tuiasosopo and be drafted into the baseball draft, he could have been like Taylor Mays or Jonathan Stewart and go to a good program, he could have bailed last year as well. Had he done any of those things nobody would have blamed him, in fact he took crap for each and every decision. Now Locker took the team to a bowl game finished this "disasterous" year throwing for 2,209 yards, 56.6% completion, 17 passing touchdowns to nine interceptions while adding five rushing touchdowns. Locker has done a lot for this program and is genuily a good guy. Hopefully those same fans who are bashing him are doing that because he is a Husky and can root for him in the NFL.

All and all this season didn't go how the Huskies or Locker would have liked to have gone. That happens in sports you bumps and roads but the Huskies responded after the BYU loss, after Nebraska killing them(more on that game in a few days), after the Arizona State loss and now after the three game losing streak that saw the team outscored 138-30. Sarkisian and this staff deserves credit for not allowing this team to quit which you would have saw under Tyrone Willingham. Locker didn't come back to win a Heisman trophy he came back to lead the Huskies program back to a bowl game. The Huskies will now have three full weeks of practices to pepare for the bowl game and for the younger guys this is 15 extra practices for them. For the kids redshirting this is basically more spring football for them so guys like a Nick Montana should benefit from this. The Huskies won the Apple Cup for the second straight year and most importantly going bowling for the first time in eight years. This is why Locker came back and all of Husky nation is glad. Just don't forget about Chris Polk and hopefully he comes back as well.

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