SAN FRANCISCO — Now that was a Friday night fight.
Sparked by John Ross’ 103-yard kickoff return, Washington was able to move past a month of coaching uncertainty and controversy and end the season on a high, beating Brigham Young 31-16 in a hard-fought Fight Hunger Bowl before 34,136 spectators at AT&T Park.
Junior Bishop Sankey rushed for two touchdowns to move into a tie for UW’s career lead for touchdowns, and battered senior quarterback Keith Price padded his record passing numbers before leaving his final UW game early in the fourth quarter with a rib injury.
Price’s injury did little to quell a celebration at midfield after the game. Price flashed his trademark smile, interim head coach Marques Tuiasosopo was drenched in Gatorade and the bowl trophy was passed around to anyone and everyone within reach.
“We made history,” Price added.
The Huskies (9-4) won their ninth game of the season, their most since Tuiasosopo’s senior season in 2000. Tuiasosopo wrapped up his three-week run as UW’s interim head coach with the victory Friday, helping UW win its first bowl game since the 2010 Holiday Bowl and just its second in 13 years.
Tuiasosopo said he was concerned coming into the game about how the players would respond Friday after three “roller coaster” weeks around the program.
“To see the guys on the field after the game and they’re laughing, some guys have tears of joy in their eyes, they’re hugging — that’s what was cool to me,” Tuiasosopo said. “I’m going to remember these moments, this opportunity I had.”
Sankey, who set UW’s season rushing record with 1,775 yards in the regular season, scored on an 11-yard touchdown run early in the first quarter, strolling for an easy score near where home plate typically rests at the home ballpark of the San Francisco Giants.
Sankey added another 11-yard run in the second quarter, using a sharp cut to scoot to the right and into the end zone. That was his 20th rushing touchdown of the season and the 38th total touchdown of his career, tying an 88-year-old school record held by George Wilson (1923-25).
“It’s special,” Sankey said of the UW victory.
Sankey, who is considering an early entry into the NFL draft, finished with 21 carries for 95 yards and the two touchdowns before leaving in the second half with a hand injury.
Price, meanwhile, connected with junior tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins for a 16-yard touchdown on UW’s opening drive of the third quarter, pushing the Huskies’ lead to 28-16. That was Price’s 21st passing touchdown of the season and 75th of his career, extending his UW record.
Seferian-Jenkins said after the game he would declare early for the NFL draft.
During the break before the fourth quarter, Price left the field and had an X-ray taken on his ribs, injured during a run in the third quarter. He tried to play through it, but threw his only interception shortly after that.
Brigham Young, which had a 473-319 advantage in total yards, couldn’t take advantage of the good field position and missed a 45-yard field goal as UW defenders skipped to the shared sideline in celebration.
Redshirt freshman Cyler Miles, considered the front-runner to take over as the starting quarterback in 2014, relieved Price to start the fourth quarter.
Ross’ kickoff return — officially 100 yards — came early in the second quarter and broke a 7-7 tie. It was UW’s first kickoff return for a touchdown since Louis Rankin’s 89-yard return against Washington State in 2007.
New UW coach Chris Petersen was not in attendance Friday night. He assumes control of the team Saturday, nearly four weeks after Steve Sarkisian left for the head-coaching job at USC.
UW defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, coaching on the AT&T Park sideline Friday, is expected to join Sarkisian at USC, a source said. Wilcox said after the game that a formal announcement about his future would likely come Saturday.
Defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi also was on the UW sideline, nine days after allegations surfaced he had paid for a UW’s recruit’s tutoring classes. Lupoi had denied the allegations, but he was saying his goodbye to the Huskies after the game, one player said.
“I can’t say enough about these guys and our players. They wanted this,” Tuiasosopo said. “Through some turmoil, they stayed focused, they came together as a team. … Our guys just continued to fight and that’s why I love ’em.”
Defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha, coming off two major knee injuries in two seasons, had three sacks of BYU quarterback Taysom Hill. That gave Kikaha 13 sacks on the season, tied for the second most in a season at UW behind Jason Chorak’s 14.5.
Linebacker John Timu intercepted Hill with 2:29 left in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
It was a bend-but-don’t-break effort by the UW defense in the first half. BYU (8-5) ran 57 plays in the first half, gaining 297 yards. Washington had 32 plays for 145 yards at halftime.