Seniors go out with a bang

SEATTLE - With Felix Hernandez winning the Cy Young and the Washington Board of Regents giving the go-ahead for a $250 million renovation of Husky Stadium, there was a lot of positive energy floating around the city of Seattle Thursday. The cherry on top of a memorable day was hearing the 'Whose House? Dawgs' House!' chant reverberating through Hec Ed.

After all, how many times do you get to celebrate a win on Jake Locker's Senior Night?

To be fair, it was also Mason Foster's Senior Night, and Nate Williams' Senior Night, and Victor Aiyewa's Senior Night, and...well, you get the picture. But November 18, 2010 will go down in Seattle sports history as a day where everything just came together at the right time, and to be trite for a second - it was all good. Black may have been the color of the evening, as Washington wore all blacks for the first time, but it was UCLA that left Husky Stadium with a collective shiner, courtesy of a collective performance by a group of hungry dawgs in a 24-7 win by the home team.

Much as this senior class has had to endure - and they've endured their share and then some - Locker's senior season had gone from Heisman Hopeful to woeful with the pain of a broken rib as a token of everything he gave up to stay with the Huskies one more season. But that's what made Thursday night all the sweeter; it was a team win.

"I brought 'em up afterward and introduced each one of them individually, and I've appreciated everything that they've done," UW Head Coach Steve Sarkisian said. "Through all the trials and tribulations, they have a lasting memory and experience that they can take with them forever that no one can ever take away from them."

Ironically enough, the beauty of Jake Locker's Senior Night is that Jake Locker didn't have to do anything special. He didn't have to single-handedly will his team to win, and the chances of him taking the game upon himself were nil. He played with an injury. Sarkisian said as much after the game. He was hurting, and his teammates knew it.

"There's something unique about his game tonight," Sarkisian said of Locker. "He went out there knowing he was injured, and his teammates obviously knew it. It was something - from the first day I got here, so much was put on Jake Locker. But this is the Washington Huskies, and Jake Locker is a part of our team. And that's kind of what Jake wanted - to play with his team.

"He's a warrior. Tonight, he played with an injury. It was a hard decision for me. It wasn't about the doctors this week. This one was one me, and it's hard. To his credit, he wanted to go, the doctors said he could go and ultimately I said OK, he could go."

But he didn't have to complete 30 passes to get the job done. In fact, he was a pedestrian 10-21 for 68 yards and one interception. But he didn't have to be special. He just had to be out there.

"I told myself that if I couldn't play my kind of game, if I had to be conscious of changing how I play, I wouldn't play," Locker said. "I was going to play the way I always do and if something happens, it happens. I feel fortunate not to be too banged up and we'll just go from there."

"He's one of the best competitors I've ever been associated with," added Sarkisian. "And that was the hard part. He was injured. But he managed the football game, and I'm proud of the fact that he's able to walk out of here with a win."

All Locker did was manage the game, and his emotions, and let the supporting cast take their moments in the spotlight. And there were plenty to choose from.

In fact, the game - played in mid-November in chilly conditions - felt like a UW game of yesteryear. It was won with field position, a solid running attack and a stalwart defense.

"I thought our defense was spectacular, in all honesty, Sarkisian said. "They did a terrific job of playing the game, getting off the field, getting third down stops, and ultimately it became a field position game. Our guys played hard, they played smart."

"I think he saw that he didn't need to take many chance, given the quarterback situation on the other side," UCLA Head Coach Rick Neuheisel added. Starting quarterback Richard Brehaut was taken out of the game as a precaution with 8:50 left in the third quarter after getting hit in the head by Washington's Nate Williams attempting to slide. "I think he played conservatively, which was probably a wise move."

It was indeed smart to take what the Bruins were willing to hand over quite cheaply in the second half. Chris Polk and Jesse Callier plowed downhill the second half, ripping off chunks of yards to the point where the only ones stopping them were…them.

"We went to a little different style, or design of run," Sarkisian said of their plan coming out the second half. "We went to putting (Locker) more under center and having Chris running downhill at them. I felt like we found something. And as an offensive football team, our players felt like, OK. We found something - so let's ride it for a while."

Polk finished off the game with a career-high 138 yards on 26 carries, while Callier had his first 100-yard game of his young career. The freshman had 10 rushes for 107 yards. It's the first time Washington has had two 100-yard rushers since Louis Rankin rolled for 224 yards and Brandon Johnson chipped in 121 nearly three years to the day.

Foster, who had 11 tackles at half-time, finished with 14. Sarkisian couldn't say enough good things about the senior from Seaside, Calif. - who has been the Huskies' unofficial MVP so far this season. He's done everything for the Dawgs except turn out the lights in Husky Stadium when the games are over.

"He's indicative of all the things and embodies all the things we want in all our guys," Sarkisian said. "To his credit, when you watch him play, never once does he look at the scoreboard. He just plays the next snap. He has the unique ability to focus on the task at hand. That's why he plays so well. In turn, he has fun playing football. I'm really proud of Mason, and I'm really happy for him."

Williams added 13. Junior linebacker Cort Dennison came through with a deep interception and almost had another late in the game. Quinton Richardson played the best game of his UW career, taking a UCLA interception to the house during a crucial stretch in the game to give the Huskies a much-needed cushion. He also delivered some bone-jarring hits that ignited the 62,347 in attendance.

"It just set it all off," Richardson said of his 28-yard pick-six off Darius Bell with 6:22 left in the third quarter. Two drives later he lit up UCLA's Ricky Marvray with a hit reminiscent of players like Lawyer Milloy and Hakim Akbar.

"That was the spark that we needed, so we just build on that," Richardson said after the game.

After the interception return, Neuheisel went to junior QB Clayton Tunney - not even listed on the Bruins' depth chart to start the game. He went absolutely nowhere, as the Huskies' defense limited him to one completion on eight attempts.

Special teams weren't special - they were just solid, keeping the Bruins backed up in their own end for most of the ball game. And solid was all they needed, as an inspired defensive performance by UW took care of the rest.

It wasn't always that way. UCLA drove 92 yards in the first quarter, all but 22 of that on the ground. The pistol was firing, and the Bruins looked tough to stop. And to compound matters, Locker threw a pick to the Bruins' Aaron Hester at the Huskies' 21-yard line. Three plays prior, Locker had a sure pick dropped by safety Tony Dye.

Just when UW fans were muttering 'Here we go again' between their teeth, Kai Forbath badly missed a 43-yard field goal with 2:19 left in the first quarter, and the Huskies were back in business.

Washington didn't immediately capitalize, but they didn't panic either. Sarkisian could have rolled the dice a couple of times early in the game, but smartly played field position. Then the drive came that got the Huskies back in the game, fueled by a Locker-to-Devin Aguilar connection on first down for 22 yards to the Bruins' 39. Seven plays later, Locker called his own number on a 3-yard keeper to tie the game.

And from that point on the Huskies' defense held UCLA to 69 total yards the final 50:20 seconds of the game - as dominant a defensive performance as Washington fans have seen in quite some time.

A collective win - just the way Locker and his teammates would have drawn it up. And with 2:17 left in the game, Locker handed the ball off to Callier, and that was it. He and his senior offensive linemen - Cody Habben, Ryan Tolar and Greg Christine - walked off together in a rousing sendoff.

"In reality, I should have called time out and given him even more of an ovation," Sarkisian admitted afterward. But the reality also was - Jake went out on his own terms, as just a teammate - one of four that were ending their home careers on the same play. It was fitting.



"It was a wonderful experience to break out the all-black uniforms and to beat a pretty good team in UCLA," said Williams. "Over these past couple years, you know I've had a long journey including the 0-12 years, but I'm happy where I am and it was a great way to send the seniors out."

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