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UW’s fighting spirit has Huskies close to Pac-12’s upper echelon

Travis Feeney Stanford

Travis Feeney Stanford -

Linebacker Travis Feeney tackles running back Tyler Gaffney. Feeney finished with six tackles against the Cardinal.

Photo by Joshua Bessex

It was a shame, head coach Steve Sarkisian said, the game had to end that way — with Kevin Smith’s game-saving reception being turned into a game-ending incompletion by the man in the replay booth. 

For Sarkisian, it certainly was. The Huskies were driving, Keith Price was dealing, and a second stunner over Stanford in as many seasons was looking more and more likely the longer the ball was in Price’s hands.

It was a shame for everyone else, too, though, for the simple reason that it meant the end of one of the most entertaining games of the college football season to date. 

The Cardinal won, 31-28, despite the UW overtaking Stanford by more than 200 yards. And now that the Huskies know they can outplay the nation’s best, they get a chance to do it again, when No. 2 Oregon — and ESPN’s “College GameDay” — comes to town next Saturday.

The Huskies are too good for moral victories. They came too close to a win, moved the ball with too much ease to take heart in having come close. But they nonetheless proved something on Saturday night. 

The guys in the locker room may have believed they could hang with Stanford, but much of the nation was skeptical. Now, it’s clear the gap between the UW and the conference elite is sliver-thin, if it exists at all anymore.

“I think the thing we proved to ourselves is that we can beat anybody in the country,” Sarkisian said.

It’s silly to complain about the officials. In the end, Stanford won because two 

of its very, very good players made a series of very, very good plays. Ty Montgomery busted two kickoff returns and hauled in a 39-yard touchdown at the end of the first half. In the fourth quarter, All-American Trent Murphy did what he does best, deflecting a Price pass at the line that turned into a Stanford interception.

The other team is trying its hardest, too.

The point is that the Huskies forced the Cardinal to try its hardest, something few teams have done during Stanford’s ongoing 13-game winning streak. 

Late in the fourth quarter, as Stanford was trying to run out the clock, it faced a third-and-one. The Cardinal has made its name as the most physical team in football, one that can overpower its opponent at will. Yet needing only three feet, head coach David Shaw resorted to trickery. Quarterback Kevin Hogan tried a naked bootleg, but Marcus Peters was there to chase him down and force a punt.

It was exactly the sort of play the Huskies made all night — a difficult one in a high-leverage situation with no safety net. Time and again, until the final and fatal drive, Kasen Williams, Travis Feeney, and the rest made big plays at big times. 

“I thought they showed the fight that is innate in this program,” Sarkisian said. “It’s not superficial.”

That’s good, because the fight will be even harder against Oregon, when the Huskies will need a win to keep alive hopes to achieve their stated goal, a conference championship. The Ducks look darn near invincible, but after Saturday night, the UW has its best chance in a decade to clip their wings.

Reach columnist Kevin Dowd at sports@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @KevinDowd

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