By Brent Stecker
SEATTLE — Just 38 yards separated the Washington Huskies from a lead in the Apple Cup and Bishop Sankey from Husky immortality.
Both were reached.
Bishop Sankey rushed for 200 yards in Washington’s Apple Cup win on Friday, including the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. (AP)
Sankey, the Huskies’ star running back and Doak Walker Award finalist, took six straight handoffs from that point in a 10-10 game in the third quarter, the last of which was a seven-yard touchdown scamper that was loaded with importance. For one, it was the go-ahead score for Washington (8-4 overall, 5-4 Pac-12) in its 27-17 victory over the rival Washington State Cougars (6-6, 4-5). And for two and three, with that run Sankey broke both Corey Dillon’s single-season school record of 1,695 rushing yards in a season and Napoleon Kaufman’s career touchdown record of 34.
Sankey was a one-man wrecking crew Friday, rushing for 200 yards to push his season total to 1,775 as the Huskies dispatched the Cougars a year after Washington State stunned them in an overtime comeback victory. And while the junior said after the game that the records weren’t exactly goals of his, avenging the 2012 loss to WSU was.
“I think we had a lot of motivation. That was something that was stressed all week — just remember last year, how that felt,” Sankey said. “We knew we didn’t want to feel that again, and I feel like that definitely helped us out.”
As vital as Sankey’s yards on the ground were, his biggest play was undoubtedly a 40-yard gain he busted off on a third-and-5 screen pass when Washington trailed 10-3 early in the third quarter.
“It was like a spark plug, and after that we got our rhythm, got rolling, and it was done after that,” he said.
That catch and run put the Huskies at WSU’s 40, and five plays later they tied the game on an 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins from quarterback Keith Price, who returned to start after missing last week’s win over Oregon State with a shoulder injury.
“I thought that (screen play) was pretty big,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said. “I think that first drive in the third quarter where we got them third and long — if we had kept them pinned back, it was going to increase the pressure on them and certainly the tempo of the second half. Then they converted and that was a huge play for them.”
Huskies frustrate Halliday
Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday had his moments in his first Apple Cup, but he also had several plays he would like to have back.
Halliday threw 32 for 59 for 282 yards and two touchdowns, but a pair of fourth quarter interceptions were the final nails in the Cougars’ loss. A scoreless third quarter didn’t help matters, either.
“I think UW’s defense played real well,” Halliday said. “We had trouble running the ball in the third quarter. We dropped a few. I missed a few throws. We had trouble protecting. Kind of go down the line. But credit to them. Their defense played real well.”
The Huskies made a conscience effort to keep the Cougs’ air-raid offense from finding success deep downfield, and it worked as Washington State didn’t have a single play over 30 yards.
“We played some zone, we played some man, we tried to change the windows, the safeties did a good job of disguising as did the corners,” Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. “They see about everything there is in pass coverage because that’s their style of play — they’re gonna chuck it. … We weren’t perfect by any means, but I thought our guys did a good job battling and were able to make some plays.”
Physicality was a big part of the Huskies’ game plan in the secondary.
“We just had to make sure we were more sound in our technique, not allow them to go up field, getting hands on them,” Huskies safety Sean Parker said. “We got a couple P.I. (pass interference) penalties, but that’s not gonna stop us from playing physical, and we just eliminated big plays for the most part.”
Sark gets over the seven-win hump
Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian has found his way onto the hot seat over the second half of the season, but the Apple Cup win may help the Huskies’ fifth-year mentor breathe a little easier, as it marked his first eight-win season with the Dawgs.
While Sarkisian said he never worried about eclipsing seven wins, he was relieved nonetheless.
“I’m happy for you guys to not ask me about it anymore,” he said to the press. “Honestly the number wasn’t a big deal to me, I’m just tired of answering questions about it.”
The way he talked after the game gave the impression he’s planning on being in Montlake for longer than just the Huskies’ upcoming bowl game.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to go play another game with this group, because I think they’ll prepare great and go out and perform, and I’m excited for the future of this program and where we’re headed,” he said. “We played hard. We’ve been playing hard all year. We’ve had three lousy quarters this season, quite honestly. Outside of that, our guys have played good football. We haven’t been perfect, but we’ve played well, we’ve played hard, (and) we’ve had good leadership.”
Third quarter belongs to Huskies
Washington scored on their first drive of the third quarter for the 11th time in 12 games this season, and as with most of their wins, that quarter loomed large in the final score.
The Huskies scored three times in the frame — Seferian-Jenkins’ 18-yard catch, Sankey’s seven-yard run, and a 39-yard field goal from Travis Coons — while holding the Cougars scoreless for the entire period.
Leach, who fell to 1-1 in his short career in the Apple Cup, said the Cougars’ inability to stop the Huskies on third down was their downfall.
“We played them really well on third down in the first half, but they had a big third quarter as far as converting third downs,” Leach said. “I thought they played well in the third quarter. We didn’t move the ball as well as I thought we should have in the third quarter. We didn’t keep the drives going with the opportunities that we had. Then, we let them off the hook on third down.”