Huskies kick up another miracle victory
Seattle Times staff reporter
Then the final two unbeatens from the Pac-10, UCLA and Washington State.
It was left to the Huskies to avail themselves of all this largess, and in typical Washington fashion, they did. John Anderson booted a 30-yard field goal with no time on the clock, inching the UW past Arizona State, 33-31, in another wild Washington finish.
"The Pac-10 is always a crazy race," said Willie Hurst, the UW senior who ran for a career-high 185 yards. "No one goes undefeated. It's going to be a great stretch run in November."
The victory pushed the Huskies into a four-way tie for first at 4-1 in the Pac-10 with Stanford, Washington State and Oregon. UCLA is 3-1.
"This is an unbelievable league," said Washington Coach Rick Neuheisel. "As somebody said today, the team picked to finish last (Washington State) was favored over the team picked to finish first (Oregon)."
Even by Washington's hairbreadth standards, recent weeks have been a bit much. In their four October games, they scored the winning points in the last 13 seconds three times, including the past two weeks.
The decisive points came from the foot of Anderson, who said he had pulled a hip-flexor muscle Thursday and thus relinquished kickoff duties to backup placekicker Jim Skurski.
"It was right down the middle," Anderson said of his deciding kick. "It could have hit a light pole."
The drive that won it for the Huskies began with 7:12 left and won't be easily forgotten — at least until next week. It started at the UW 10 after Washington had held ASU in Huskies territory at the 42.
The early highlight was a highlight-reel scramble of 11 yards on third-and-eight by Cody Pickett, who threw for 252 yards.
"It was an unbelievable effort," said Neuheisel, referring to the Pickett run. "Unbelievable."
Neuheisel said he had instructed offensive coaches Keith Gilbertson and Steve Axman to be patient with the drive — so lethal was the Arizona State offense in the second half, especially with Jeff Krohn throwing the deep pass to several receivers.
"We've got good corners," Neuheisel said. "I told Omare Lowe and Roc Alexander, 'Don't hang your head.' They made plays when they had to."
As the clock wound down, Pickett appeared stopped on a third-and-two play at the UW 45, but flung a pitch to Rich Alexis and he carried for 13 yards. Pickett threw to Reggie Williams for another 20 as ASU's freshman corner, R.J. Oliver, lunged futilely for an interception.
With 51 seconds left and the Huskies poised to let Anderson try a fourth-and-one field goal, ASU jumped offside. That allowed Washington to squeeze more seconds off the clock, denying the Sun Devils the ball. And when Anderson toed his field goal through, the Huskies had another reason to celebrate.
"It's just the will to win," Hurst said. "It's giving me gray hairs, and I'm only 21 years old."
After the Huskies took a 30-25 lead on Hurst's 23-yard touchdown run that ended the third quarter, Arizona State answered with shocking ease. Krohn hit receivers Donnie O'Neal and Shaun McDonald for gains of 30 and 43 yards, respectively, to set up a short touchdown run by Delvon Flowers for a 31-30 ASU advantage.
"I don't think about the postgame speech at that time," Neuheisel said, asked what he was feeling then.
Within a horrific first seven minutes of the third quarter, the Huskies blew a 24-10 lead and fell behind 25-24. They allowed their third blocked punt of the season, this one for a safety. That ties this team with the 1987 and 1982 Huskies for most blocked punts in the past 48 years of Washington football.
They had built an early 17-0 lead and seemed capable of blowing away the Sun Devils (4-3). But "blowout" is not part of the vocabulary at the UW, now a winner via a fourth-quarter comeback in 10 of its last 19 games.
Bereft of a running attack in recent weeks, the Huskies established Hurst in a novel way: By throwing endlessly in the first half to open up the ground game. At one point, Pickett threw on 13 straight plays and 15 of 16.
They went frequently to double-tight-ends formations. That allowed them to neutralize the Pac-10's sack leader, Terrell Suggs, as well as protect Pickett for the passing attack and unleash Hurst.
Now they enter November squarely in the running for the probable best prize in the Pac-10 this year: The Fiesta Bowl. If it happens, this place would have to like their style.
Bud Withers can be reached at 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org.