Miracle in the Desert

All was quiet and there was a cool nip in the air along the waters of Hood Canal that evening of September 5, 1998. Several of my family members were outside and gathered around the crackling fire. They tended to it, as well drinking various beverages and enjoying each other's company amid the ease and tranquility of the natural setting.

Although there was this feeling of serenity around the warm fire and nearby placid water, it all belied the tension, agony and tumult that were taking place inside the family cabin several yards away. Occasional curse words, or fits of yelling, were escaping from the open window and echoing forth to all four corners of the yard. The Johnson boys (father and son) were glued in front of the TV, watching the Huskies take on the Arizona State Sun Devils in the season-opener. All evening long, it was obvious by the alternating emotions being yelled at the TV, that the game being shown was a barnburner.

At approximately 9:30 PM, the people gathered around the fire suddenly heard a tremendous bellowing roar emanate from inside the cabin. Screaming, clapping, yelling and more swearing then followed this. Soon after, the celebration poured out the front door and spilled into the yard, and toward the group gathered around the fire. Those folks soon discovered what had happened. With a mere 00:28 left in the game, Brock Huard had connected with TE Reggie Davis on a 67-yard touchdown pass, amid a desperate 4th and 17 situation. The Huskies had incredibly come from behind to win 42-38!

Where were you when this immaculate reception took place? It was a surreal experience, that bedlam that took place on the desert floor in Tempe that night.

Washington had entered that game with a #18 ranking and some quiet confidence. After all, Brock Huard had decided to stay for his junior season instead of turning pro, and the Huskies were coming off a strong finish the year before with a 51-23 shellacking if Michigan State in the Aloha Bowl.

Arizona State was coming in ranked #8 in the nation, and there was serious talk among fans and players in Tempe that Bruce Snyder's team was ready for a National Championship. They had the great JR Redmond at tailback, and Mitchell "Fright Night" Freidman at safety. A sellout crowd stuffed itself into Sun Devil Stadium, and the party atmosphere was electric. As is customary for the ASU student body, corn tortillas came flying out of the stands onto the field, making for a flavorful backdrop.

At first the Sun Devils didn't disappoint their hometown fans, mounting a 28-14 lead. However by the end of the 3rd quarter, Washington had scored three straight touchdowns to take a 35-28 advantage. A 42-yard field goal with 7:24 left narrowed it to 35-31. Then after a three-and-out, Washington punted and JR Redmond ripped off a 42-yard return. The Sun Devils drove it down close, and with tension at a fever pitch on 4th and goal, QB Ryan Kealy found his old high school teammate Tariq McDonald with a sensational 8-yard touchdown pass. It was truly a tremendous fingertip catch, made in the clutch.

Sun Devil Stadium erupted, and the party was on! Arizona State had conquered its first of 12 victims, and they could now set their sights upon BYU.

With the commotion from the celebrating crowd reaching earthquake proportions, the Huskies still had a little clock to work with to try and drive into field goal position to tie the game.

They promptly stepped on a rake and bonked themselves in the head.

With under a minute remaining, on third down and short, an errant pitch on an option to the left side was barely covered in time by Jason Harris. Washington still had the ball but they had just lost a dozen yards.

And the clock was running.

And there were no timeouts remaining.

And it was now fourth down and 17 yards to go.

Huard stepped up to attempt to bark out signals despite the relentless waves of noise washing down from the Sun Devil faithful. He took the snap and took a five-step drop. He looked immediately for tight end Reggie Davis who was running a deep fade route to the right side. Huard lofted a spiral over Davis' outside shoulder perfectly. Reggie caught the ball in stride for the first down.

Then he shed the would-be tackler, and begun racing down the field. As he crossed midfield, Davis turned on the jets and it became a footrace. ASU's All-American candidate Mitchell Freidman then made a fatal error. Instead of cutting Davis off at the sideline, "Fright Night" took a horrific angle and attempted to strip the ball loose from behind. Davis shed this tackle, held onto the ball, and then bolted into the end zone for this touchdown of the ages.

After the game, Huard was quoted as saying, "I didn't look at the down, I didn't look at the distance, and I didn't look at the clock. I just threw the ball."

Sun Devil Stadium was immediately transformed into a silent tomb. Meanwhile the Husky bench was going nuts. Brock Huard fell to his knees and pointed toward the heavens. Reggie Davis held the ball aloft and pointed it to the skies. Jim Lambright looked like he just won the Powerball lottery. It was, as the great Kevin Calabro stated, "a Husky Moment".

There is an old expression, which goes, "Whom the Gods wish to destroy, they first call promising."

This was definitely the case with both of these teams, as each fell hard from grace. ASU would never recover from that terrible loss, and a season full of national hopes became a mediocre 6-6 campaign for a Sun Devil team that had it's share of internal strife in 1998.

Washington would go on to get absolutely humiliated at Nebraska, then humiliated again by Air Force in the O'ahu Bowl. They finished a disappointing 6-6 to close out their season.

Two weeks following the disaster in Hawaii, the Lambright era had ended and the Neuheisel era had begun.

But it doesn't taint the emotions and the passions that were evoked by the Miracle in the Desert.
Derek Johnson can be reached at uwsundodger@msn.com

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