These Dawgs never doubted themselves

BERKELEY, Calif. - Twenty-Six Power Quad. That's the name of the play that saw Chris Polk scamper one precious yard on fourth down to keep UW's bowl hopes flickering in the NorCal sunshine. One yard to properly put an cap on the legacy of Cal's Memorial Stadium as we know it. One yard to prove to Husky Nation that hope for a post-season full of purple and gold pigskin is well within their grasp.

The capper on this is that they did all of it on the road against a team ready for them on multiple levels. California got embarrassed by Washington 42-12 last year, so they had revenge on their minds. This was the last game ever at the venerated Memorial Stadium, so they had history to play for, as well as the fact that UW hadn't beaten them in Berkeley since 2001. And finally, they needed a win to ensure themselves of a post-season, so they had everything to play for. So in that sense, the win could loom even larger for the Steve Sarkisian era as he continues to put his stamp on the UW program.

In the end, the scoreboard read Washington 16, California 13. They didn't even try an extra point, because it would have been superfluous. Any additional points would simply have been wasted. The Huskies went from Twenty-six Power Quad to pandemonium in about three seconds: That's about how long it took Polk, who gained 86 yards on 18 carries Saturday to ease on over the right side of Washington's offensive line and into the history books.

The Huskies did have a choice. Down three, they could have gone the safe route. They could have kicked a chip-shot field goal and took their chances with overtime on the road. That didn't work out so well for them in 2006, when Marlon Wood's final-play heroics tied the Bears, only to have the lasting image of Marshawn Lynch driving all over the field after scoring a touchdown burned forever in the minds of UW fans everywhere.

Washington had two shots from the one-yard line with time ticking down. UW quarterback Jake Locker snuck it on second down and was stuff. A third down sneak?

"We got stuffed," he said, matter-of-factly.

Then came of moment of truth. Prudence tells you the smart play, the money play, is to tie the game. "I didn't blink," UW Head Coach Steve Sarkisian said. "We were going for it - home or away."

Even though it felt like Notre Dame all over again, Sarkisian saw value in the two failed sneak attempts. He saw a Cal defense that was selling out to plug the inside like a sink full of matted hair. They wanted to muck up the middle so bad that the Huskies couldn't get out of their own shadow.

"I was surprised we didn't score on the very first sneak," Sarkisian said. "They were really piling in the a-gaps and using four-point stances, so we knew exactly what we were going to do; run a power play to the strong side using that same formation with them all tucked inside."

Twenty-Six Power Quad. Over the right side, over freshman guard Erik Kohler and senior tackle Cody Habben, with fullback Austin Sylvester leading the way.

Considering how tough Cal had made the previous two plays, it was amazing how easy the Huskies made their fourth-down attempt look.

"It was either us or them," Sylvester said.

When Polk heard his name called in the huddle, he never hesitated for a second. "I was not going to be denied," the sophomore said. "If I kept my legs moving, I have no choice but to go forward. It was blocked perfectly. I knew it was going to be a touchdown. I knew it."

His coach knew it too. They had last-second triumphs over USC and Oregon State, and now the outgoing seniors could take another Maalox Moment back home with them.

"What amazing memories our seniors are getting from their senior season," he said. "From the SC field goal, to the OSU two-point play, and for this game to end the way it did - I'm just so happy for our seniors, because they've been through so much. They've been the real catalyst for this thing. We may not always be the most talented team on Saturday afternoons, but we are an extremely resilient group, and it starts with those guys. I couldn't be happier for them."

The end to the second half was a lot more auspicious for Sarkisian than the first. California quarterback Brock Mansion was able to connect with receiver Keenan Allen to give the Bears a first down at Washington's 36-yard line. With seven seconds on the clock, Mansion threw again - this time to Michael Calvin. Washington's Quinton Richardson and Cort Dennison converged to bring Calvin down in-bounds, presumably right as the clock registered all zeros.

But the referees had agreed one second remained - long enough for Cal Head Coach Jeff Tedford to call timeout and get his kicker on the field. Giorgio Tavecchio nailed a 53-yard field goal as the half expired, giving the Bears a 3-0 lead in what had to be considered a mundane, lackluster half of football at best.

"They said there was still time on the clock, and I argued it vehemently, but they expressed to me that there was still a second left on the clock when they called timeout," Sarkisian said of the play. "We didn't have a time out available to challenge it, so it was on them to review it or not."

Because the first half had been a case of who could punt the ball more, three points looked to be incredibly valuable. Washington had accumulated 123 total yards, and any time a drive looked to have momentum, it was killed by either a turnover, penalty or a play that just came up a yard or two short.

Coming out the second half, the Huskies needed to have something go their way. After the defense forced another Cal punt, Locker struck lightning with D'Andre Goodwin - an 80-yard pass play that looked doomed for incompletion, but the ball ended up in Goodwin's hands and without a Bear defender in sight. Cal's Marc Anthony had fallen down and was 15 yard behind Goodwin by the time he knew what had happened.

It was just the tonic for a sputtering Husky attack, so it wasn't just fitting that Locker went back to the deep ball for some more magic on their game-winning drive, it appeared to be mandatory. The recipient this time was Jermaine Kearse, who stepped up huge with a 46-yard snag to take the ball down to the Cal 20.

Even Locker admitted after the game that they were bad throws. But throws that ugly never looked so pretty upon final inspection. And that's all that mattered for a Washington team gasping for every morsel they could get, style points be damned.

A Jesse Callier fly sweep took the ball to the 15, and then it was vintage Locker - the kind of Jake we haven't seen in a while, and certainly weren't expecting because of a rib injury he had been dealing with for a month. But there he was, taking the ball on a quarterback draw for eight, and then for six more, setting up the final three plays from the one.

"I thought Jake showed a lot of guts in the second half," Sarkisian said. "I don't know if he had a very good first half. I thought he showed a lot of guts and made some courageous plays, especially in the fourth quarter."

"Their safeties were really triggering when I did keep the ball," added Locker. "I thought they had a really good game plan for that. Those couple plays we did have at the end were well-designed and well-executed."

Obviously everyone will focus on the final drive, Kearse's catch, and Polk's punctuation point - but there was a lot more that went into this win. The defense didn't give up an offensive touchdown all day long, and limited Cal to 283 yards on 59 plays, and only 97 yards in the second half. The Bears' Brock Mansion threw for 92 yards, no touchdowns, and was the recipient of a pretty pick by junior cornerback Quinton Richardson.

"We settled down on some of their exotic runs and hung in there," Sarkisian said. "We played really good pass coverage. There weren't a lot of guys open."

The win, as gritty as any NFL playoff win, puts the Huskies' magic number at one - that's the number of games left in their season, and it's the number of chances they have to secure post-season play for the first time since the 2002 Sun Bowl. It pits Washington against Washington State in an Apple Cup that now, all of a sudden, means everything.

"I'm happy for the state of Washington that this Apple Cup is really going to mean something - for both schools," Sarkisian said. "It's going to be a great day for the state. They'll be ready and we'll be ready and it's going to be a fun one."

"To get this win keeps our season alive," said Locker. "It's exciting. It's right where we want to be as a football team. It's playoffs for us now, and if we lose, we're out. And I think that was the urgency and passion that we played with in the second half, and that's why we were able to have success." Top Stories