Another Washington-UCLA game, another confounding comeback. Only this one had a twist: It was the Huskies doing the coming back, rallying...
By the end of one of the most improbable comebacks in Husky Stadium history, the roar was enough to make defensive coordinator Kent Baer briefly ponder his safety.
“The [press box] was rocking,” Baer said with a smile about the raucous atmosphere that greeted Washington’s 29-19 win over UCLA Saturday in front of 58,255 at Husky Stadium. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay up there.”
But even that might have paled in comparison to the ruckus heard inside the Huskies locker room at halftime after UW fell behind 16-0 and didn’t get a first down until 6:30 was left in the second quarter.
“I’ve always been a firm believer that there are times when little Johnny is crossing the street and there are cars coming, that just saying, ‘Johnny, get out of the street’ doesn’t work,” said UW coach Tyrone Willingham. “You might need a little stronger and a little louder presence then.”
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And this was one of those times, with the Huskies in danger of getting crushed by the oncoming Bruins and seeing their revival flattened after just one week.
“He asked us if we were afraid,” said tight end Johnie Kirton. “That was the last thing he said before he left, if we were afraid, and we said ‘no.’ “
Then they went out and proved it, outscoring UCLA 22-3 in the second half to beat the Bruins for the first time since 2000, and improve to 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the Pac-10 for the first time since 2003.
UCLA had first-and-goal four times, plus a first down on the UW 13-yard line. The Huskies stopped one drive with an interception, forced UCLA to kick field goals three times and allowed one touchdown.
• First-and-goal, UW 8-yard line: 28-yard field goal.
• First-and-goal, UW 6-yard line: 1-yard TD run.
• First-and-goal, UW 9-yard line: 23-yard field goal.
• First-and-10, UW 13-yard line: UW interception.
• First-and-goal, UW 9-yard line: 22-yard field goal.
The comeback from a 16-point deficit was the seventh-largest in UW history and the second-largest at Husky Stadium, topped only by a 24-point comeback in a 28-27 win over California in 1988.
“I think we just started playing harder,” said UW linebacker Scott White, who led the Huskies with 11 tackles. “We were kind of flat early. I don’t know what it was. But the emotion wasn’t really there.”
That showed as UCLA scored the first four times it had the ball, including scoring a touchdown after taking over at the UW 6-yard line following a bad punt snap.
But it could have been worse, as the Bruins were held to field goals after three long drives.
“To keep holding them to three was critical,” White said. “If they had punched some of those in for touchdowns it would have been tough to overcome.”
With five minutes remaining in the half, UW had been outgained 189 yards to 3, its only first down coming via a penalty.
So the Huskies scrapped much of their offense and went almost exclusively with a spread attack featuring three or four receivers.
“I knew we had to get out of our two-back offense and spread them out,” said UW offensive coordinator Tim Lappano. “We were banging our head in there and not getting anything, so we had to spread the field and let ‘Four’ go to work.”
That would be No. 4, as in UW quarterback Isaiah Stanback, and he responded. After going 1 for 4 for 4 yards in the first quarter, Stanback finished 18 of 29 for 200 yards and three touchdowns, two to Sonny Shackelford, who had a career day with nine catches for 120 yards.
Stanback said he was calmed by a quick talk with Warren Moon, who was honored at halftime.
“He said a little something in my ear and I just went back to being me,” Stanback said.
The Huskies began to crawl back into the game on their final possession of the first half, moving 92 yards in nine plays, only two of which were runs, with Stanback hitting Shackelford from 23 yards out for the score. That made it 16-7 at halftime.
“That was important because it put you back in the ballgame,” Willingham said.
Still, he lit into his team at the half, saying he told them to “get moving a little faster.”
They did just that, taking the second-half kickoff and moving 65 yards in six plays to make it 16-14 on another Stanback-Shackelford hookup, this one from 28 yards out.
From there, the Huskies dominated. UCLA’s only second-half score came after a 79-yard punt return gave the Bruins the ball at the UW 9. But even that turned into something of a Huskies victory when the Bruins had to settle for the last of Justin Medlock’s four field goals.
Stanback finally gave UW the lead with a 4-yard pass to Kirton with 7:32 left, and UW linebacker Dan Howell, who had missed last week’s game to attend his father’s funeral, picked off a Ben Olson pass and returned it 33 yards for the clinching touchdown.
When it was over, UW had won despite four turnovers and being outrushed 143-49.
And now they are halfway to their goal of getting at least six wins and reaching a bowl game.
“It feels great, but we are not happy with winning three games,” White said. “We are going for the whole thing. We can go out and beat any team in this league, we feel like right now. So we’ve got to come out even harder next week.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org