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Sunday, September 10, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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BLAINE NEWNHAM

Huskies score their biggest home victory in eight years

Times staff columnist

Historically, it was the most important win at Husky Stadium since 1992, Don James' last season, when Washington beat Nebraska at night.

Reggie Williams from Tacoma, the country's No. 1-ranked high-school receiver, trying to speak above the delirious din, was more concerned about the future.

"They showed me they are on the road to being a championship team," he said of the Huskies. "Man, this place was live."

Standing next to Williams was Charles Frederick, the nation's second-ranked receiver, wishing he were wearing more than shorts in a breeze and atmosphere that was more November than September.

Later, he would leave wearing what appeared to be the Washington jacket of his friend and former teammate, Rich Alexis, the freshman tailback who ran 50 yards for a touchdown in one of the many wonderful subplots in Washington's 34-29 win over No. 4 Miami.

"Washington should be No. 4," said Williams, the 6-foot-4 receiver. "No doubt about it."

Rick Neuheisel saw a stage worth standing on. The Washington coach brought the Huskies back on the field for what might be an unprecedented encore, in front of the remaining fans and the recruits, promising to start a tradition that would reward players and spectators.

In two weeks, the Pac-10 has knocked off No. 3 and No. 4. It will be November when UCLA plays here, but the atmosphere, the noise that confused and frustrated Miami, should be no less.

It is easy to focus on what Washington didn't do. The Huskies couldn't run inside, their punting was awful and for the first time under Neuheisel they had too many penalties.

But consider who they played and what the were up against, especially in the second half when they played with two freshmen corners, Chris Massey and Derrick Johnson, against what many suggest is the best set of receivers in the country.

The Huskies couldn't run, so they threw, spreading the field to force Miami to cover 6-foot-7 Jerramy Stevens one-on-one. Stevens caught seven passes for 89 yards.

In many ways, the outcome was as simple as Washington having an experienced quarterback in Marques Tuiasosopo, and Miami trying to win with a sophomore, Ken Dorsey.

On the other hand, the contributions of young players were as vital as they were surprising: Johnson covering Santana Moss and returning a kickoff 38 yards, Justin Robbins catching three passes in third-and-long situations, including one in what proved to be the winning drive. And Alexis, the fourth-string tailback, who three weeks ago was ready to go home to Florida he was so homesick.

"I'm over that," he said. "I don't even call home that much any more."

Alexis was recruited to Washington by another high-school teammate at Pope John Paul II near Miami, kicker John Anderson.

"He sent a tape of me to the Washington coaches," Alexis said. "He played a major role in my being here."

Alexis didn't play football until he was a senior, unless you count the freshman game when he ran for five touchdowns and threw for another.

He was proud of what he had done, but made the mistake of telling his father he was playing football.

"He was afraid I'd get hurt," Alexis said. "He wanted me to be a basketball player."

The 6-foot Alexis looked like a football player yesterday.

Neuheisel said he sent Alexis into the game "because he's from Miami, and because I think we've really got a jewel in him." The play was an option. Tuiasosopo saw nothing with the fullback and the end crashing down. The key was to pitch it.

"I got hit," he said, "and when I looked up he was 25 yards down the field and still going. It was like he was shot out of a cannon.

"There was no hesitation, he just took off."

That's what you like about Washington. There is no hesitation. They play hard, play smart and seem to believe in themselves when others don't. Especially when others don't.

This win doesn't mean Washington will win a national championship. It won't mean much at all if the Huskies lose to Colorado and Oregon.

But it does return the sense of dominance to the program, the stadium, the fans, and, most important, to the recruits, something missing since James coached his last game.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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