Saturday’s double-overtime win came from the slimmest of margins yet could have the biggest impact on the season.
When Ryan Katz let go on Oregon State’s two-point conversion attempt in the second overtime, many hopes flew with his pass down the middle.
Jake Locker needed the stop. He spent the first 20 minutes of a crisp, clear Saturday night turning Oregon State into pawns with decisive throws and spirited legs. His last 40 were at times I-told-you-so minutes for detractors, filled with sailing passes. But Locker threw two overtime touchdowns. He deserved a win.
Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian could do without a conversion. His Saturday play calling was masterful at times, countering Oregon State’s blitz packages. Sarkisian also delivered the proclamation “it won’t take us long” more than a year ago. His team waffled into Saturday at 2-3.
More than a single person, the can’t-get-right Huskies were desperate for an incompletion. A schizophrenic opening of the season left all their preseason hubris in need of actual fuel. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde stood in stunned commiseration on the sideline, marveling at the dual personalities Washington displayed on Saturday night and the six weeks prior.
After all, Washington was up 21-0 in the second quarter against Oregon State. Two weeks earlier, it went on the road with chutzpa and beat USC.
Then again, Washington trailed 28-21 in the first overtime against the Beavers. It also chunked an opportunity last Saturday against Arizona State, was throttled by Nebraska and mismanaged the opener against BYU. It was microcosmic perfection that the Huskies once held a three-touchdown lead against Oregon State then watched it yanked away prior to a 35-34 inch-dependent double-overtime win.
That Oregon State was going for the win in double overtime surprised few, including Sarkisian. He recalled Beavers head coach Mike Riley doing the same years back but could not pinpoint it. The memory was likely berthed from viewing the 2006 Sun Bowl that Oregon State lost 39-38 to Missouri. The Beavers went for two and lost by one.
Two defensive calls flashed in from the Washington sideline following Oregon State’s double-overtime touchdown: A field goal block and a base over zone.
Sarkisian rumbled down the sideline to consult with defensive coordinator Nick Holt. The bald, boisterous one assured Sarkisian that Washington was in the proper alignment to counter Oregon State’s ambitions. He was wrong.
Oregon State tight end Joe Halahuni is not stiff. He leads the Beavers with three receiving touchdowns and had five catches for 70 yards last week versus Arizona. Washington linebacker Mason Foster called Halahuni a great athlete, yet “they hadn’t really thrown to him all day.”
Halahuni made only one catch on Saturday. One and a half, really. When he came off the line amid a quaking stadium a little before midnight, Washington linebacker Cort Dennison was watching Katz. The Beavers quarterback scrambled 11 times on Saturday, a season-high. Dennison peeked at him then dropped back when Foster passed off Halahuni.
The base over zone that Washington was in left the middle as the soft spot. Oregon State knew this. It was also Dennison’s section of the field. Katz had a clear throwing lane and zipped the ball through. Dennison disrupted if not dismantled the play. Halahuni will be called for a drop by the folks in Corvallis. The Montlakers will be satisfied to call it incomplete.
“All that matters is we won,” Dennison said. “I don’t care if I got my hand on the ball or not.”
The result exonerated Desmond Trufant who was called for pass interference on fourth down to keep Oregon State alive. It left Locker’s Bowl game ambition a slim possibility. The win brought affirmation for Sarkisian’s team.
“We talked about belief all week,” Dennison said. “We set so many goals in the summer, we believed. The word belief can carry you so far. Times got hard, players stepped up.”
That was not always true in the past or even at times this season. Though more than four hours on the field could feel like a grind, the biggest challenge awaits. Washington needs to figure out who it is.
“I think we’re resilient, I’ll say that,” Sarkisian said. “And I think we’re learning. I don’t know if there is one word that can describe this football team right now, outside of the fact we play with really big hearts. We battle and compete.
“I don’t know if we’re the best team in this conference but we’re going to fight ya’. I know that.”
Fight inch by inch. Locker’s third-down conversions came by the minuscule measurement. Foster’s death-grip tackle of Katz’s forearm forced a punt late in the game. Halahuni could have used one more.
Accumulated, it may be enough to merge personalities.