Sarkisian Savors the Moment

It only took Steve Sarkisian two minutes and 32 seconds before he had his first 'uh oh' moment. The No. 3 USC Trojans had sliced and diced his Washington Huskies like they were in an infomercial for Slap Chop, with Joe McKnight, Stafon Johnson and Stanley Havili starring as Vince. But the Huskies didn't give up.

They held to their gameplan, settled down, and eventually won a thrilling 16-13 contest in front of nearly 62,000 fans at Husky Stadium.

After Erik Folk rammed home the 22-yard winning field goal with just seconds left on the clock, there wasn't going to be enough security to hold the fans back. And when the final whistle sounded and the purple sea of humanity engulfed the field, Sarkisian tried to find his mentor - USC Head Coach Pete Carroll - for the traditional handshake. Pete was nowhere to be found in the morass. Sarkisian then tried to find his wife, Stephanie. No such luck there.

"I just started enjoying it with the students and having fun," he said with a smile afterward. "These press conferences keep getting better and better."

And why not? He already pushed his Huskies toward their best offensive performance against a top-10 team ever (LSU), and now he can lay claim to the first home win over a top-3 team since 1981 - the year the Huskies defeated these same Trojans, 13-3.

That day was kind of similar to Saturday - not very nice out weather-wise. In fact, the 1981 game was the one that garnered the famous quip by the late, great Jim Murray, who said the weather was so miserable there were whitecaps in the toilets. This Saturday wasn't nearly as miserable, but it was unpleasant enough to give the sons to the south of Seattle something more to think about.

It was the first start ever for USC quarterback Aaron Corp, and his 13-22 performance for 110 yards suggests mediocrity. But it was the lone interception he threw - to UW linebacker Donald Butler at the Huskies' 22-yard line with 3:16 left in the third quarter - that was indicative of the Trojans' day offensively. They averaged 7.6 yards per rush on 33 attempts, but absolutely killed themselves with three turnovers. Washington didn't return the favor, something Sarkisian was very excited about.

"I think we're understanding the idea of winning football games by creating turnovers and not turning the ball over," he said. "The ball was on the ground a lot today."

"When you play football like this, your chances of winning are so difficult," added Carroll. "It goes right to me. For us to go out there and turn the football over like that, we fumbled many more times than we lost it, to be penalized on numerous occasions, change the field position. Really, we didn't get any better from last week. Turnovers and penalties will always have the chance to beat you, and that's this game is about."

Despite the start, the Huskies kept on - mainly due to the perseverance of Nick Holt. He was so dogged, in fact, he ran into an official on the sidelines in the second quarter, leading to a penalty that helped keep a USC drive alive.

"He (Holt) was a little fired up today," Sarkisian said. "We have to find a way, maybe get a rubber cord or something to pull him back."

Apparently Holt took a cue from the women's national championship softball team, who were honored at halftime. The UW defense came back in the second half and pitched a shutout in the third quarter, making it a one-quarter battle for the win. Overall, Washington's defense held USC to 24 plays and 137 yards of total offense. Overall the Trojans were 0-10 in third down conversions. Donald Butler was a key contributor, leading the Huskies in tackles with 12, as well as coming up with an interception, a forced fumble and two tackles for loss.

"I thought Donald was fantastic," Sarkisian said. "He's obviously our defensive leader - not just from his position, but also from an emotional standpoint. I'm happy for all our seniors to get to this point. They deserve it. They came to the University of Washington to win football games, and they are getting their opportunity now."

Folk came up money again with 9:53 left on the fourth quarter clock, nailing a 46-yard field goal attempt to put the Dawgs up three. And after the Trojans countered with a 25-yarder of their own with 4:07 left, it set up a scenario for the perfect four-minute drive - otherwise known as Jake Locker Time.

"I don't think it was Jake's best night, but when we needed him he made his plays," Sarkisian said of the junior signal-caller from Ferndale. "He found a way to stay in the game. I'm just really proud of him."

Locker came up with 56 of his 237 passing yards on that fateful drive, one that started out about as horribly as humanly possible. USC defensive end Nick Perry sacked Locker for a 12-yard loss, putting the Dawgs in a hole they might not normally come out of.

But these Huskies came out snarling. Locker connected with Chris Polk for seven yards, and then threaded the needle for 21 yards to sophomore Jermaine Kearse. Kearse wasn't done. Locker, in his normal scramble mode, was able to locate Kearse down the Husky sideline for 19 big yards, compounded by a roughing penalty by the Trojans' Averell Spicer. That made it first and goal at the USC 8-yard line and less than a minute to go.

"I just thought our guys executed masterfully at the end; not just the scheme part of it, but the execution of working the clock and draining that thing down to make sure that was our possesion, that was the last possession of the game regardless of what happened," Sarkisian said.

One Polk run later, the Huskies called timeout with seven seconds left. When Folk's 22-yard kick held true, Washington had arguably it's biggest win in nearly a decade, one that was confirmed when a river of supporters gushed from the stands and onto the field to celebrate with the team.

"To have that moment, those things you dream about as a kid, let alone as a coach," Sarkisian said. "To be in a game where the crowd rushes the field, those are all special moments you never forget.

"It's a great moment for our program, and hopefully sends a message about where we're headed and what we're trying to do."

The only thing that was sweeter was that Sarkisian and Holt had beat their former team. They won against the guys they weren't supposed to win against - at least not right out of the gate.

"The biggest thing for me that makes it special is that I know how good those coaches are for SC. For me, there's a satisfaction in knowing how good they are, to go up and be able to play toe-to-toe and find a way to win in the end is very satisfying."


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