United in their elation, Keishawn Bierria and Sidney Jones walked side by side up the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum tunnel toward the visiting locker room, a noisy celebration on tap.
Smiling but momentarily silent, Jones, a sophomore cornerback who forced the fumble that changed this game’s complexion, extended his left arm and playfully shoved his teammate, as if he knew no other way, in that moment, to express this kind of joy.
Bierria found a few words.
“We’ve been waiting on this one for a long time,” he said.
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The Huskies left the Coliseum on Thursday night as surprise victors, bruising their way to a 17-12 win over the 17th-ranked USC Trojans — the 17-point-favorite, ultra-athletic, preseason top-10 Trojans — that qualifies, finally, as the kind of signature victory that had eluded second-year Washington coach Chris Petersen.
It was, without question, Petersen’s best game at Washington. And maybe there is some poetry to be found in the fact that it also doubled as perhaps the most embarrassing loss in the career of USC coach Steve Sarkisian, who left UW in December 2013 after five seasons.
USC went 9-4 in Sarkisian’s first season as coach, a mild disappointment, and now sits at 3-2 this year — and 1-2 in Pac-12 play — despite being picked by the media in the preseason to win the league title.
The fans booed Sarkisian on Thursday night, as Washington’s defense limited USC’s offense to 346 total yards, a single touchdown and only 5.1 yards per play — the Trojans entered the game ranked second nationally in that category at 8.1.
Afterward, Sarkisian echoed a refrain familiar to Huskies fans who watched him lead UW to a 34-29 record in five seasons.
“At the end of the day,” Sarkisian said, “we didn’t coach well enough and we didn’t play well enough to deserve to win the game.”
And if not for three blown scoring chances in the first quarter, the Huskies, who finished with just 299 yards of total offense, might have run away with this one.
First, Darren Gardenhire’s interception of Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler set up the Huskies with a first down at USC’s 33-yard line on their first possession. They moved it 19 yards before settling for a Cameron Van Winkle field-goal try that hooked wide left.
Washington’s defense forced a three-and-out on USC’s next possession, and after the Trojans punted to midfield, a personal foul penalty moved UW to the USC 35 to start the drive. Then freshman quarterback Jake Browning missed two open receivers near the end zone — both overthrows to Joshua Perkins and Dante Pettis — and Browning pooch-punted to USC’s 6.
Penalties thwarted the Trojans after they achieved a pair of first downs, and Kessler again threw a third-down interception, this one to Jones. The Huskies were again in business with a first down at the USC 21-yard line.
And after a holding penalty and a pair of 1-yard rushes by tailback Myles Gaskin, Browning threw an interception to Trojans defensive back Iman Marshall. USC responded by driving 60 yards and kicking a 34-yard field goal, taking a 3-0 lead despite gifting the Huskies three consecutive drives that started inside the USC 35-yard line.
That would be a frustrating sequence against anybody, but it was especially so against the Trojans, who can be reasonably described as the most talented team in the Pac-12.
Yet they didn’t look it for most of this one, and Washington’s defense had something to do with that. UW’s pass rush bothered Kessler, sacking him five times. USC converted only 1 of its 13 third downs.
Third-year sophomore linebacker Azeem Victor again blurred and bashed his way to a double-digit tackle total (10) for UW. The Huskies forced three turnovers, including a fumble they recovered at USC’s 27-yard line early in the third quarter, which led to Marvin Hall’s receiver pass to tight end Joshua Perkins for a touchdown on the next play.
“I can’t ask nothin’ more of my brothers,” said Bierria, who finished with eight tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack. “We came out here, we showed up, and put ourselves on the map again. They said we were underdogs. We didn’t see it like that.”
Hall’s touchdown pass gave the Huskies a 10-6 lead. And they added to it when Myles Gaskin, who rushed 22 times for 134 yards, scored on a 1-yard run with 14:21 to play in the fourth quarter, giving the Huskies a 17-6 lead.
USC responded with a 6-play, 69-yard touchdown drive capped by Ronald Jones’ 1-yard touchdown run. The drive was aided by a 15-yard, personal-foul targeting penalty against Victor, who was ejected and must serve a one-half suspension on Oct. 17 against Oregon.
After the Trojans’ two-point conversion attempt failed, UW got the ball back twice, and twice the Huskies were unable to move the chains and maintain possession.
But the Huskies’ defense swelled when it needed to, forcing USC to attempt a 46-yard field goal that missed short with 3:44 to play.
Browning, who completed 16 of 32 passes for 137 yards, converted a crucial third down on UW’s following possession — a slant to senior receiver and Los Angeles native Jaydon Mickens — and a procession of kneel-downs secured a most improbable victory as the home crowd booed Sarkisian and his defeated Trojans.
“I worked the route, I broke across his face,” Mickens said, “and Jake threw a great ball, good enough for the first down.”
Good enough, too, for the Huskies’ most impressive win under Petersen, and their most significant road victory since Sarkisian himself led UW to a 32-31 win over the Trojans here in 2010.
“If we don’t have some success sooner or later,” Petersen said, “it gets hard to stick to the plan. This will give them a little juice.”
OCT. 17: Oregon at UW, 7:30 p.m., ESPN or ESPN2, 1000-AM, 97.7-FM