STANFORD, CALIF. — The lasting image of No. 15 Washington’s 31-28 loss Saturday night will not be of physical domination by the fifth-ranked Stanford Cardinal. These teams matched well enough in that area.
It will not be of the Huskies’ inability to compete on the road against an elite team. They did that well enough, too.
Instead, it will be of Stanford receiver Ty Montgomery, and the 204 yards he accumulated on kickoff returns, including a 99-yard touchdown on the game’s opening kick and a 72-yard return late in the third quarter that set up a Stanford touchdown.
That, and the Huskies’ 10 penalties for 89 yards, helped cost UW (4-1 overall, 1-1 Pac-12 Conference) a chance for a victory that would have had big implications in the Pac-12 North division race.
Instead, the Huskies suffered their first loss of the season, and it doesn’t get any easier with No. 2 Oregon scheduled to visit Seattle next weekend.
UW made this one interesting when quarterback Keith Price completed a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jaydon Mickens to cut Stanford’s lead to 31-28 with 2 minutes, 38 seconds to play.
And the Huskies even got the ball back with a chance to tie or win. Cornerback Marcus Peters stopped Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan on a third-and-1 carry, and Stanford had to punt the ball back to UW with 1:51 to play.
But after reaching Stanford’s 49, the Huskies threw four incompletions and that was that.
The final was a ball that Kevin Smith was originally ruled to have caught for a first down on fourth-and-10, but the call was overturned after a lengthy review.
This game was decided before that, though. Stanford (5-0, 3-0) resorted to its grinding, smash-mouth style on its first possession of the second half, and it paid dividends.
Bruising running back Tyler Gaffney touched the ball on six consecutive plays, and Hogan capped the 10-play, 67-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run to put the Cardinal ahead by 10 points.
Washington answered – Bishop Sankey capped a 10-play, 64-yard scoring drive with a 15-yard touchdown run to cut Stanford’s lead to 24-21 – but Montgomery fielded the ensuing kickoff and ran it 72 yards to UW’s 19, another momentum-killer.
Stanford needed only three Gaffney carries to put the ball in the end zone again, taking a 31-21 lead with 44 seconds to go in the third quarter.
Montgomery, of course, had already burned the Huskies with a 39-yard touchdown catch in the waning seconds of the first half, a grab that put Stanford ahead 17-7 less than a minute after the Huskies had scored their first touchdown.
Washington’s offense had better rhythm once the second half started. It scored quickly on its first possession after halftime, with Price finding Smith for a 29-yard touchdown less than a minute into the third quarter.
That’s when Stanford commenced its bruise-fest. Gaffney led the charge, and finished with 19 carries for 72 yards.
And the Cardinal defense began hassling Price, forcing the UW quarterback out of the pocket on numerous occasions and sacking him five times total.
The Huskies were able to convert a fourth-and-11 thanks to a 19-yard carry on a fake punt by Travis Coons, and that drive eventually ended with Sankey’s 15-yard scoring run.
They had a chance to cut the deficit to three points earlier than they did with a first-and-goal at Stanford’s 7 with a little more than six minutes remaining, but Price had a pass tipped by Trent Murphy and intercepted by linebacker A.J. Tarpley.
That came after the Huskies had run 18 plays, including five third-down conversions.
Price was otherwise solid. He finished 33-for-48 passing for 350 yards. Sankey added 125 yards on 27 carries with two touchdowns.
Stanford’s outstanding special-teams play diminished its opportunities to gain yardage, and that helped the Huskies outgain the Cardinal, 489-284.