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September 19, 2009

A win for the ages

10 plays to change a program, 63 yards to define a career, one monumental upset to energize a helpless fan base and remind former players that Husky football matters once more. Not since 1981 has Washington beaten a top-three team at home, not since they beat these same Trojans 13-3 on a similar soggy Seattle afternoon.

For a team that went 0-12 just a season ago, every accomplishment is positive, every win monumental. So just how big is this upset? How can you define this moment and when we look back on this day, can this moment define a season?

"I don't know what it means to me," Husky quarterback Jake Locker said of his game winning drive. "But I know it means a whole lot to this team and this football program."

This was the stuff movies are made of.

New Husky head coach and former Trojan offensive mastermind Steve Sarkisian squaring off against his mentor Pete Carroll for the first time. Former USC defensive coordinator Nick Holt facing the offensive juggernaut that Sarkisian himself helped build.

This folks was David versus Goliath.

"I think the biggest thing that makes it special for me is I know how good those coaches are for SC," explained Sarkisian. "I know how good of a head coach Pete is, I know how good of a defensive coordinator he is, I know what those guys do and how they get their team prepared. So for me, there's a satisfaction in knowing how good they are, to go up and be able to play toe-to-toe and find a way to win at the end. For me, that's very satisfying because I know how good of coaches they are."

It's hard not to appreciate this moment, no matter what colors you don.

"When you really like people you want good things to happen," said USC head coach Pete Carroll about Sarkisian and Holt. "I'm happy for them in that regard."

It's also hard not to appreciate the effort put in by Locker. Considered an athlete first and a quarterback second for the first three years of his career, he's come into his own under Sarkisian's tutelage and led his Huskies on a program changing 63-yard drive.

"He's a tremendous leader, he's a great quarterback and I was proud of him," said Sarkisian. "He just executed in that final drive."

And how was the view from the other sideline?

"I think the difference in this game was Jake," expressed Carroll. "I thought he was able to come up and make the plays when they really needed it in the last drive. The great scramble pass on the third down and long that he hit. We're sitting on the route waiting for the route to be thrown and he still made it. That's a great player. He didn't surprise me a bit. I thought we kept him under wraps for a while but when he had to have it, he made it. That's what a great player does."

That's also what good teams do. Last season it was a penalty here or a blown coverage there that ultimately led to 12 straight loses. But this new look Husky team did something its recent predecessors could not; they willed themselves to a win.

"I said from the beginning of last season that we had the talent to win football games, but we just found a way to lose them," said Locker. "It was the opposite of that tonight. We didn't play our best football, we made a lot of mistakes and left a lot of things out there, but we found a way to win the game."

Washington gave up 256 yards on the ground, had 10 penalties, dropped a couple of key passes, and only rushed for 56 yards. Those are the stats that lead bad teams to losses. But the Huskies are no longer a bad team and instead forced three USC turnovers, churned out 20 first downs (four more than USC), and possessed the ball eight more minutes than the Trojans.

"We kept battling. We kept competing," explained Sarkisian. "We took care of the football offensively and created turnovers on defense and that turnover battle is something we've been harping on coming into this game the whole time. We executed on special teams. I thought all those phases and key areas that we had emphasized coming into the ball game, we did it the way we wanted to do it."

The resilience was impressive, especially considering Washington's slow start. The Trojan's drove the ball with ease to open the game, stuffing it down the Husky's throat and gashing the defense for long runs. With one of the best offensive lines in the country, USC's opening drive made every Husky fan say uh oh and they weren't alone.

"That first drive when they went bang, bang, bang, touchdown - I kind of went uh oh, what do we have to do, how can we just settle in and play our game. I have been on the other sideline with those guys and they can be hard to stop when they get rolling.

I was proud of our guys to hold them to a field goal on the next drive, then stop them on the next drive (after that) and I thought that was when the momentum switched."

Oh boy did it. Washington only allowed three points in the final 49 minutes of the game. Not bad considering they were sliced and diced only a week ago in their win over Idaho.

"I think last week we kind of played down to the level of our competition," said Husky safety Nate Williams. "That's never a good thing but I think it happened last week. Obviously with all of the hype around this game we were kind of jittery at first. I think that's why we didn't look good on defense at first. But we just came to the sideline, calmed down, went through our adjustments and went out there and played ball like we know how to."

The defense did their part and the offense showed up when needed. Locker, who finished 21 of 35 for 237 yards saved his best for last on the game winning drive.

After being sacked for a 12-yard loss, Washington was facing a near impossible second down and 22 to keep the drive alive. Well, maybe near impossible for the old Huskies, but not these mad Dawgs.

Locker hooked up with Chris Polk on the ensuing play for a seven-yard gain. That set up the play of the game. Pulling out all of his tricks, Sarkisian drew up a play not originally in the playbook and Locker made him look like a genius by connecting with Jermaine Kearse in the middle of the field for a 22-yard gain.

"It wasn't a play we had in the game plan and coach just called it for that situation," said Locker. "I think you have seen it all year, when we are in those third and long situations he's not shy about calling a play that gives us a chance to get a first down and keep the chains moving. I appreciate that and I think the other guys do too."

But the Locker to Kearse connection was just getting started. Forced out of the pocket, Locker found Kearse who had found the slightest hole in the defense. With touch and accuracy not seen in the past, Locker placed a perfect ball into the leaping hands of Kearse for a 19-yard play. After a roughing the passer penalty on USC's Averell Spicer, Washington only needed one more Polk run and a timeout to set up the biggest kick in Erik Folk's career.

His 22-yard field goal was right down the middle and history was made.

"As much as everyone thinks that was just a chip shot field goal for Folk, that's still a field goal that he's never had to kick in his career either," said Sarkisian.

What happened after that was beautiful. Husky stadium was flooded with purple and gold clad fans storming the field. Players, past and present, jumped and sang with jubilation and Washington shocked the USC Trojans and the world.

"Like I was telling the other guys," explained Butler. "I'm going to be telling this to my children and grandchildren. I will be talking about today for a long time."

And he won't be alone.


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