STANFORD, Calif. – To the question of whether the Huskies had proved something in the course of an agonizing 31-28 loss to Stanford, Steve Sarkisian had a quick response.
“No, there’s no awards for losing,’’ he said quietly. “No. We’re a proud football team, and we’re proud of the way we played. But we came here to win the game.’’
That the Huskies had a chance to do just that, after the most deflating start possible, and with other adversity along the way, is a testament to their perseverance. And, to use the word most often invoked postgame by Sarkisian, their heart.
And in talking through the Huskies’ comeback — make that comebacks, plural, because every time Washington answered, and every time Stanford answered their answer, the Huskies came back one more time, until time ran out — Sarkisian did acknowledge that maybe they did prove something after all.
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“I think the thing we proved to ourselves is we can beat anybody in the country,’’ he said. “To the point of when you prepare really well, have good plans and execute, you can do that.”
That’s a profound lesson for the Huskies to internalize with another powerhouse looming, the second-ranked Oregon Ducks in a week in Seattle.
For the first time in far too long for Husky fans, they finally seem prepared to withstand the Duck onslaught that everyone knows awaits them. And if not for a replay official “playing a video game,’’ in Sarkisian’s words, they might be going into that game undefeated and shooting up the national rankings.
“It’s unfortunate it came down to a judgment call,’’ Sarkisian said. “…I wish the game had been won on the field and not in the booth upstairs with some guy that didn’t get to feel the emotion and hard-fought game it was.’’
Keith Price was particularly valiant in defeat – “an absolute stud,’’ in Sarkisian’s terminology — while Bishop Sankey once again was a workhorse, and a Thoroughbred at that.
Coming in, the Huskies were dripping with emotion, bursting with anticipation of the potential payoff awaiting them in the program’s biggest game in years. Kicking off to Stanford as a glorious Indian summer day on The Farm turned to dusk, they were awash in possibilities, yearning for a turning-point night.
And then watched the Cardinal’s Ty Montgomery run through a gaping hole wide enough for the Stanford tree to lay perpendicular and not brush up against a padded human on either side.
The 99-yard touchdown return, a mere 12 seconds into the game, couldn’t help but raise the possibility of another in a long series of road washouts against ranked opponents by the Huskies. Not the sort of thoughts you want to creep into your consciousness while many of the fans were still finding their seats at Stanford Stadium.
But the Huskies believe they are made of stouter stuff this year, and they didn’t let that inauspicious start – their first deficit of the season after four victories that put them on the college football map in increasingly vivid fashion — bury them.
In fact, the Huskies went on to show that the excitement over their start, and their belief in where it can take them, is grounded in reality.
Not that there wasn’t more adversity to overcome for the Huskies, who early in the game seemed intent upon dabbling in every penalty in the rule book. They were flagged eight times for 68 yards in the first half, many of them ill-timed to sabotage their own promising drives or provide new life to a flagging Stanford possession.
Stanford, a team that augments its undeniable discipline and intelligence (they’ll match SATs with any team in the country) with power and physicality, is about the last team you want to play catch-up against. They have the capability of grinding out yards, and burning up clock, to debilitating results.
But fifth-ranked Stanford, accustomed to having its way with teams this year – the Cardinal had outscored its four previous opponents 165-78 – couldn’t quite subdue the Huskies until the very end.
“I told them I was very proud of them, proud to be their coach,’’ Sarkisian said. “They made me proud on that sideline, the way we continued to fight, and the heart they showed.”
There are no rewards for losing. But sometime there are signposts in the direction of potential victories ahead.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @StoneLarry