Husky heartbreak

Stanford recap 2

Stanford recap 2 -

Quarterback Keith Price walks of the field following Washington's 31-28 loss to Stanford.

Photo by Joshua Bessex

Stanford recap 1

Stanford recap 1

PALO ALTO, CALIF. — Keith Price’s dark brown eyes looked dull and defeated. His shoulders were hunched, and his brow furrowed in disbelief. Husky after Husky had that look on his face in the waning minutes of Saturday night as they sulked out of the visitors’ locker room of Stanford Stadium as losers, filling that role for the first time this season.

The No. 15 Huskies fell behind, clawed back, fell behind, and clawed back again. They climbed back but never climbed on top, losing to No. 5 Stanford in a 31-28 thriller that turned on several critical plays late and an even more important call from the replay booth.

On fourth-and-10 on the Stanford 49-yard line and trailing by three, quarterback Keith Price brought the Huskies to the line. When the ball was snapped, Stanford brought the blitz. Price stepped up, stepped back, danced out of the pocket, and fired down the sideline to wide receiver Kevin Smith. Smith dove and cradled the ball before it hit the ground for a 16-yard completion and a first down. But it didn’t stand.

Replay officials reviewed the play and ruled that the ball hit the ground before Smith gained possession. It stopped the UW’s comeback and turned the ball over to Stanford with 1:16 left on the clock.

“I felt like I caught it,” Smith said. “I know I caught it.”

On one replay, it looked like a catch for Smith. On another, it looked like the reversal was warranted. It was a razor-thin margin that ended up cutting the Huskies loose from their unblemished record and perfect start to Pac-12 play.

“It’s unfortunate that the game had to come down to judgment call like that,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “That part was unfortunate because it was two good football teams battling and competing with one another, and I wish the game would have got won on the field and not in a booth upstairs with some guy who didn’t get to feel the emotion and the hard-fought football game that that game was.”

One play before the Smith’s catch-turned-incompletion, the Huskies had another perfect shot at a first down as Price’s pass hit tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins directly in the hands before the 6-foot-6 junior dropped the would-be completion. Two drives before, the Huskies knocked on the door of the end zone, using 18 plays including clutch catches on the sidelines from Smith and wide receiver Kasen Williams, to travel 73 yards to the Stanford 7-yard line. But they came up empty-handed as Price’s first-and-goal pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by A.J. Tarpley.

But every time the Huskies came up short on offense in the fourth quarter, the UW defense picked up the slack. Although it gave up 265 yards in the first three quarters and 14 first downs, the defense was an immovable force in the final period, continually giving the offense one last gasp of air. The Huskies didn’t surrender a first down in the fourth quarter and forced three three-and-outs from the Stanford offense on as many drives. The Huskies kept it close, yo-yoing back from a 10-point deficit to a three-point deficit four times, but they never got closer than that.

“It felt like we ran out of time,” Sankey said. “We played with them through the whole game, but we came up just short.”

Sankey finished with 125 yards on 27 carried for two touchdowns against the stout front-seven from Stanford.

The UW’s first half was ugly to say the least. On the opening kickoff, Ty Montgomery burned the UW’s special teams with a 99-yard touchdown return. They were the first points the Huskies relinquished in the first quarter all season. From there, it didn’t get much better. Drive-killing penalties stopped the Huskies before they could get any momentum on offense, while the defense also drew its fair share of flags. In all, the UW drew eight penalties for 64 yards in the first half and 10 on the night.

The only life the Huskies showed in the first half was on a drive late in the second quarter when they stepped on the gas and displayed their up-tempo offense for the first time during the night. Sparked by a critical completion from Price to Williams on third down, the UW raced down the field on the Cardinal at warp speed, found its running game for the first time of the night, and got a 19-yard completion to Seferian-Jenkins to move the Huskies to the Stanford 25-yard line. A personal foul penalty three plays later pushed the Huskies to the 7-yard line, where Sankey ran it in for a touchdown on the next snap to make the score 10-7.

The Huskies finally had momentum on their side after slogging through almost an entire half of penalties and thwarted drives. On the next drive, they did nothing to keep it.

In the waning moments of the first half, the Cardinal took a short field after the kickoff and immediately squashed the UW’s momentum. Kevin Hogan lofted a perfect pass over the head of Marcus Peters into the waiting arms of Montgomery for a 39-yard touchdown pass with 11 seconds left in the half.

In the second half, the Huskies came back firing, scoring on the first drive after the intermission. They drove 75 yards in a speedy 59 seconds on four plays to pull the game back to within a field goal. But again, the Cardinal answered with another score of its own.

It happened again at the end of the quarter when Sankey scored from 15 yards out to cut the lead to three again with 2:26 left in the period. The next drive, the Cardinal capitalized on a huge kickoff return by taking the ball to the UW 19-yard line and getting a touchdown run from Tyler Gaffney.

After the UW defense quelled the Cardinal following Price’s fourth-quarter interception, the Huskies raced into the end zone to bring the game back within three points. Price found wide receiver Jaydon Mickens for a 1-yard touchdown.

The Huskies stopped the Cardinal on the next drive, but the comeback effort stopped with Smith’s overturned completion. A tough, gritty fight with the Cardinal certainly proved to many that the Huskies are worthy of their No. 15 ranking, but they walked out of the locker room without the only thing they came to Palo Alto for: a win.

“There’s no awards for losing,” Sarkisian said. “We’re a proud football team, we’re proud of the way we played, but we came here to win the game, and unfortunately we didn’t do that. … I think the thing we proved ourselves was we can beat any team in the country. And if you prepare really well and you execute, you can do that. Now you have to try to get back on the horse.”

Reach Sports Editor Thuc Nhi Nguyen at sports@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @thucnhi21

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