STANFORD – It looked like the ultimate buzz-kill.
The Huskies were dripping with emotion, bursting with anticipation of the potential payoff awaiting them in the program’s biggest game in years. Kicking off to Stanford as a glorious Indian summer day on The Farm turned to dusk, they were awash in possibilities, yearning for a turning-point night.
And then they watched the Cardinal’s Ty Montgomery run through a gaping hole wide enough for the Stanford tree to lay perpendicular and not brush up against a padded human on either side.
The 99-yard touchdown return, a mere 12 seconds into the game, couldn’t help but raise the possibility of another in a long series of road washouts against ranked opponents by the Huskies. Not the sort of thoughts you want to creep into your consciousness while many of the fans were still finding their seats at Stanford Stadium.
But the Huskies believe they are made of stouter stuff this year, and they didn’t let that inauspicious start — their first deficit of the season after four victories that put them on the college football map in increasingly vivid fashion — bury them.
Indeed, Washington was threatening to tie or win until an overturned reception by Kevin Smith ended their comeback hopes with just more than a minute left.
The Huskies showed that the excitement over their start, and their belief in where it can take them, is grounded in reality.
Not that there wasn’t more adversity to overcome for the Huskies, who early in the game seemed intent upon dabbling in every penalty in the rule book. They were flagged eight times for 68 yards in the first half, many of them ill-timed to sabotage their own promising drives or provide new life to a flagging Stanford possession.
Stanford, a team that augments its undeniable discipline and intelligence (they’ll match SATs with any team in the country) with power and physicality, is about the last team you want to play catch-up against. They have the capability of grinding out yards, and burning up clock, to debilitating results.
But fifth-ranked Stanford, accustomed to having its way with teams this year — the Cardinal had outscored their four previous opponents 165-78 — couldn’t quite subdue the Huskies.
Quarterback Kevin Hogan, who had made only a token appearance in last year’s 17-13 Washington upset of the Cardinal in Seattle, has greatly enhanced their offensive balance, and came in with a perfect 9-0 record as a starter, including a Rose Bowl victory last year.
But Hogan threw an interception on Stanford’s first offensive possession, and at one point in the second quarter was 3 for 7 for 12 yards.
The Huskies, down 10-0, soared back into the fray with the sort of diverse drive that makes them exceptionally troublesome. With quarterback Keith Price involving his most potent weapons — namely, Austin Seferian Jenkins, Kasen Williams and Bishop Sankey — they executed a beautiful 88-yard march that cut Stanford’s lead to three as the first half wound down.
But so efficient was the Husky hurry-up that Stanford was left with a little over a minute on the clock. That was more than sufficient for Hogan to guide a 61-yard scoring drive in a mere 48 seconds, invoking a tit-for-tat theme that would repeat itself in the second half.
The Huskies opened the second half with a perfectly executed four-play drive to pull back within three, 17-14 — and watched Stanford respond in kind to go back up by 10.
The Huskies came back within three again, helped by a cold-blooded faked punt in their own territory that kept them alive.
And then, boom, Stanford took it right back down the field for another matching TD to open back up that familiar 10-point lead.
But even then, UW came back again and was driving to either send the game into overtime or take the lead in the final two minutes.
Stanford needed all of the momentum provided them by the Huskies’ initial breakdown on the opening kick.
But there was also an answer by the Huskies to the question of their ability to hold their own against one of the nation’s elite teams. And that ensured that the buzz was not killed after all.