Chris Polk scores on a 1-yard run as time expires to keep UW's bowl hopes alive.
BERKELEY, Calif. — Officially, it’s named “26 power quad.”
Unofficially, the Washington Huskies generally call it “God’s play.”
As UW coach Steve Sarkisian later explained: “In the football world, the power running play is often referred to as God’s play because God loves the power play.”
And it’s that play that may ultimately carry the Washington Huskies back to the promised land of the postseason for the first time since 2002.
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Running back Chris Polk scored on a 1-yard run on fourth-and-goal as time ran out to give the Huskies a 16-13 win over the California Golden Bears on Saturday and keep UW’s bowl hopes alive.
UW is 5-6 and needs to win the Apple Cup this week in Pullman to get a sixth victory that will certainly earn a bowl bid, possibly as high as the Holiday Bowl, which had a representative at the game.
“To get this win keeps our season alive, allows us to go into Pullman next weekend and compete for something that we haven’t been able to do in a long time now,” said quarterback Jake Locker. “It’s exciting, it’s right where we want to be as a football team.”
To get there, though, UW had to overcome a flurry of mistakes early — specifically, three turnovers that stalled two good drives and led to one Cal TD — and then drive 79 yards in the final 4:39.
When the Huskies got the ball for the final time at their 21 with the rain that had been off-and-on all day picking up steam, they knew the season was pretty much on the line.
“I think we understood it might be the last opportunity to go down and tie or win the game,” Locker said. “So there was a sense of urgency.”
Two short passes and a Polk run got a first down at the 34. Then Locker decided to look deep to Jermaine Kearse, who made a mad dash to gather in a pass that Locker admitted “was kind of a bad ball, actually” to make a diving grab at the Cal 20.
A Jesse Callier run gained 5 yards. Then Locker — forgetting about the pain of a broken rib — ran for 8 more, setting up a first-and-goal at the 7 and then ran for 6 more to get the ball to the one with 1:29 left.
That Locker saved his running for the most desperate of times for UW was no coincidence.
“That was it,” Sarkisian said of the last drive. “That was our shot, and we were going to see what happened.”
In a brief revival of bad memories of games past, Locker then was stopped on sneaks on second and third down.
After the latter, Sarkisian let the clock get to two seconds before calling a timeout. Asked if there was any hesitation about going for it, Sarkisian shook his head.
“None, really,” he said.
Locker said he would have been “shocked” if Sarkisian had opted for the tying field goal.
“I think every guy in the huddle expected him to call that and was ready for it and wasn’t surprised by it,” Locker said. “It was the call that everyone wanted.”
Sarkisian, though, decided that California might expect another Locker sneak, something a few of the Bears admitted later.
So he called the power play to the right out of an unbalanced line, with reserve OL Daniel Kancugowski shifting over to serve as essentially a tight end and left tackle Senio Kelemete also shifting over next to tackle Cody Habben and guard Colin Porter. Then left guard Erik Kohler pulled, creating a mountainous point of attack.
Sarkisian also called a hurry-up alignment, the offense rushing to the ball in an attempt to catch Cal napping.
In the huddle, Polk smiled.
“I knew we were going in,” he said. “I knew that if I kept my legs going, I had no choice but to go forward.”
Getting a good lead block from fullback Austin Sylvester, Polk pretty much walked into the end zone.
“I think we caught them off guard because they were expecting us to run up the middle, and we ran wide right,” Polk said. “I think that they just didn’t know where we were going.”
It was UW’s third last-play win of the year (USC and Oregon State the others) and a dramatic ending to a largely inartful game.
Cal led 3-0 at halftime on a Giorgio Tavecchio 53-yard field goal on the final play. UW took a 7-3 lead early in the third quarter on a tipped pass that turned into an 80-yard touchdown from Locker to D’Andre Goodwin.
Cameron Jordan returned a Locker fumble 21 yards to put Cal ahead 10-7, but UW used a long Callier kickoff return to set up a field goal that tied it.
The Bears responded early in the fourth quarter with a Tavecchio 47-yard field goal to go ahead 13-10 with 10:53 left. UW was stopped on its next drive. But a Cal three-and-out gave the Huskies one last chance.
And then, ultimately, one final snap, a play Polk said UW has practiced hundreds of times this year and “maybe more.”
“When they called it,” Polk said, “I knew it was going to be perfect.”
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com