Memorable Home Openers

Washington opens their 2011 season with Eastern Washington, a well coached and highly successful program that no one is giving any chance of winning on Saturday in Husky Stadium. It would easily be one of the most memorable home openers in school history should the Eagles knock off the Huskies.

While Coach Steve Sarkisian will hope to avoid that rather shocking event to transpire, it made me hearken back to three seasons where the Huskies had very memorable season lid-lifters. I began attending home games regularly in 1981 when I was a snare drummer in the UW Marching Band (Bill Bissell, I miss you), so that is the span of work I have to draw from.

September 17, 1983: Michigan at Washington

Having lost in the 1982 Apple Cup to Washington State, coach Don James' Washington Huskies looked to rebound in a big way. The Huskies had shut out Northwestern the week before on the road and looked forward to their home opener against Michigan.

Bo Schembechler's Michigan Wolverines came to Seattle as the eighth-ranked team in America, while Washington was ranked 16th.  The teams traded field goals in the 1st quarter, with Michigan's Todd Schlopy hitting from 35 yards while Washington's Jeff Jaeger connecting from 33 yards.  The Huskies took the lead in the 2nd quarter when All-Pac 10 QB Steve Pelluer connected with WR Dave Stransky on a 19-yard touchdown pass to give Washington a 10-3 halftime lead.  The Wolverines dominated the 3rd quarter, getting a 5-yard touchdown run from RB Rick Rogers and a 1-yard touchdown run by QB Steve Smith as Michigan took a 17-10 lead heading into the final quarter. 

On the first play of the final quarter, Michigan looked like they'd roll over the Dawgs, as Pelluer coughed up the football at the Washington 21-yard line.  The ball rolled loose in the ensuing scramble, eventually finding a home in the end zone, where Michigan LB Mike Mallory recovered for a touchdown - and what looked to be an insurmountable 24-10 lead for the visitors. 

Starting with the next drive, Pelluer began a streak unlike any other I've ever seen by a Husky quarterback, completing his next 14 passes.  The Huskies drove 75 yards in 13 plays, with RB Walt Hunt finishing the final three yards for the score, and Washington trailed 24-17 with 9:06 to play in the game.  Michigan took the ensuing drive to the Washington 15-yard line but Schlopy's 32-yard field goal attempt was pushed wide right by the pesky Husky Stadium winds.  The Huskies final drive started at their own 20-yard line with 3:40 to play.  Pelluer completed all nine of his passes for 76 yards, hitting Mark Pattison on a 7-yard connection for the touchdown with 34 seconds left in the game. 

Instead of playing for the tie, the normally conservative Don James had his team try for the 2-point conversion.  Pelluer dropped back and was greeted with a blitz. He stood tall and just long enough to get off a touch pass over the middle before getting crushed a nanosecond later. The lofted pass over Michigan's All-Big Ten safety Evan Cooper found TE Larry Michael for the try, which gave the Huskies an incredible 25-24 win in front of 60,638 screaming Husky fans.  Pelluer finished the day completing 27 of 33 passes, including all 14 of his 4th quarter attempts, for 269 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.  Smith threw for 225 yards in the loss.  The Wolverines finished that season 9-3 and ranked 8th nationally while the Huskies finished 8-4. That Husky team saw Steve Pelluer, Ron Holmes, and Rick Mallory all named to the all-Pac 10 team.

September 13, 1986: Ohio State at Washington

Washington was coming off of a disappointing 7-5 season while 10th-ranked Ohio State was coming to town for a nationally televised contest. It got off to a rather pedestrian start as neither team dented the scoreboard in the first quarter.

Then the bedlam ensued. Washington, led by senior quarterback Chris Chandler, got the offense untracked and hung 24 second-quarter points on the visitors from Columbus. Ohio State turned the ball over, giving the Huskies short fields to work with. Washington made them pay, and when leading 17-0, they put the nail in the coffin.

After another Buckeye turnover, Chandler dropped back and let loose with a deep spiral down the left side of the field. Lonzell "Mo" Hill made the catch before stepping out at the 11-yard line for a 45-yard gain. Two plays later, Hill would score on a look-in pass from Chandler, and the Huskies led 24-0 at the break.?

?The second half belonged to the defense, as DE Reggie Rogers made a living in the Buckeye backfield. The Buckeyes All-American wide receiver Cris Carter was only able to net 61 yards on receptions. Tim Peoples blocked a Buckeye punt attempt in the end zone. Fellow DB Tony Zachary made the recovery for the Husky touchdown, and the rout was on. ?

?Chandler and Hill would connect one more time before the end of the game, a 31-yard strike that made the final score 40-7. Don James was quoted after the game as saying, "I never dreamed that would ever happen to Ohio State any time. If they played the Chicago Bears you wouldn't think it would happen."

September 5, 2009: LSU at Washington

The four-year nightmare was already a distant memory, as Tyrone Willingham had completed his 11-37 body of work on Montlake Boulevard. New coach Steve Sarkisian was not only making his debut as the Husky coach, but also his debut as a college head coach. This game would be important in that he would be making his initial impression on all college football fans.

He didn't disappoint, and Husky fans knew from game 1 that they had an exciting and competent coach at the helm: A far cry from his doltish, arrogant predecessor.

LSU had to play to the final whistle to pull out the win. Thanks to career nights from Jordan Jefferson and Terrance Toliver, LSU was able to defeat a revived Washington team. Jefferson threw a career-high three touchdown passes to help the 11th-ranked Tigers hand the Huskies their 15th consecutive loss, 31-23.

Jefferson's third score, a 6 yard pass to a wide-open Brandon LaFell with 1:54 remaining sealed it for the Tigers.

LSU led 17-13 with 6 minutes left in the third quarter before Toliver left freshman safety Greg Walker grasping for air for the second time for a long touchdown catch and run. This one, from 39 yards, put the Tigers up 24-13. Earlier, Toliver glided past Walker for a 45-yard score late in the first half to put LSU up 17-10.

The story of this game, however, was the Huskies' play. It was inspired, creative, and anything but lackluster. The passion that had been sapped out of the program returned. Washington's new, variety-filled offense out-gained LSU 478-321. The Huskies had 296 yards at halftime.

With the game still in doubt at 24-13, Johri Fogerson had a pass go off of his chest in the end zone that could have made a difference. This game was that close. Washington was in the red zone five times and only came away with four field goals and a turn over.

Still, Sarkisian had made his mark and the Washington Huskies proved to their fans that they would be back, and sooner rather than later. The excitement in this game showed the faithful at Husky Stadium that the Willingham disaster was in the rear mirror.

"I think the initial goal from what I said earlier in the week, is when this game is done that the other team respects us -- and I think they respect the Washington Husky football team," Sarkisian said after the game.

And the Huskies hope that Saturday's game against the Eastern Washington Eagles is not a footnote in a similar article a year from now.


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