Seattle – Extensive losing was never the most disheartening part for the Washington Huskies, though most had seen enough to last a few lifetimes. It was getting so close to winning, and never cashing in.
The big-picture promise of Steve Sarkisian’s arrival as new UW coach in December focused on returning the program to Pacific-10 Conference prominence. That would never be possible until he first got the Huskies over this biggest hump – a conference-record 15-game losing streak.
But on Saturday, those players who could barely recall that last win in 2007 over California felt like – and others who had never won – washed all of that away with a 42-23 victory over Idaho in front of 58,980 at Husky Stadium.
“When you come off an 0-12 year, and you get really close in your season opener (31-23 loss to No. 11 Louisiana State), you can feel the win. When you lose, it brings us back to last year a little bit,” UW safety Nate Williams said. “But it made us work ever harder, coming in more prepared. We finally got a win.”
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The offense carried the load, scoring five consecutive touchdowns to start the game, including four scores by quarterback Jake Locker (three passing TDs, one rushing TD).
Yet, the game never felt secure – mainly because the UW defense allowed Idaho to move the ball at will, at least until the Vandals reached the red zone.
Trey Farquhar kicked three first-half field goals. But as Idaho coach Robb Akey later explained, “You can’t trade field goals for touchdowns. That puts you in a pretty good hole.”
If the Vandals, trailing 21-9, were operating from a hole, they had a final opportunity to escape when they recovered a Curtis Shaw fumble on a kickoff return to open the second half.
Idaho faced a third-and-4 from the Huskies’ 25. Quarterback Nathan Enderle, who had little difficulty finding open receivers much of the afternoon, thought he had one when he saw a streaking Max Komar going across along the right hash.
Enderle fired away. And it landed in the arms of linebacker Mason Foster, who had dropped back at the last instant in coverage.
“I didn’t see him,” Enderle said. “I put the ball on his inside shoulder, and he grabbed it.”
Foster, a junior, returned it 56 yards to the Vandals’ 21. That set up a drive that ended in Chris Polk’s 1-yard scoring plunge for a 28-9 lead with 12 minutes, 11 seconds to go in the third quarter.
“A great pass rush leads to great things,” said Foster, who has forced both turnovers in UW’s two games. “I made the play when it came my way.”
And early in the fourth quarter, he put a stop to another Vandals drive when he knocked away Enderle’s pass intended for tight end Kevin Small on a fourth-and-4 play.
“He’s a very active guy, no doubt,” Sarkisian said.
So is that quarterback the Huskies have, who in two games, is beginning to get fans’ attention around the country.
Locker led a 14-play, 97-yard drive on UW’s opening possession, capped by his own 3-yard scamper. The Huskies converted four third downs, three of them on Locker throws.
The last one was the one Sarkisian would like to bottle and keep in a cabinet somewhere.
Facing a third-and-14, Locker was flushed out of the pocket – twice – by the Vandals’ pass rush. He looked like he was going to take off running, but stopped near the right sideline.
When D’Andre Goodwin flashed open, Locker fired a low bullet into his receiver’s hands for a 35-yard gain.
“We contained him (Locker) well, but instead of his legs doing damage to us, his arm did damage to us,” Vandals safety Shiloh Keo said. “That is unacceptable.”
Afterward, Sarkisian said of his junior quarterback, “He has all the tools to be as special a player as any quarterback in the country, if not the best. He keeps showing it.”
As for the much-needed win, it was never a matter of if, but when.
And the long history of Huskies football should have shed some light. Three of the past four coaches – Rick Neuheisel (1999), Keith Gilbertson (2003) and now Sarkisian – all earned their first wins in the second game.
“We’re going to enjoy it together,” Sarkisian said.
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442