Stanback runs for daylight
“A big win” is a common euphemism used in sports, but it’s usually reserved for rivalry games or postseason play. The Huskies took on the Fresno State Bulldogs at Husky Stadium on Saturday and, after two down years for the program, Washington’s 21-20 victory could easily be seen as the biggest win in years for a team that hasn’t experienced a lot of success on the field.
Things didn’t start off great for the Huskies as Fresno State took the opening kickoff and marched right down the field. RB Dwayne Wright gashed the Husky defense for gains of four, 13, three, 13 and nine yards before plunging over the goal line for a one-yard touchdown and the Bulldogs were out to a quick 7-0 lead.
Washington followed Fresno State’s first drive with a clunker of their own as they went three-and-out when WR Sonny Shackelford dropped a sure first-down reception on third down.
“We had some drops today no question and the thing is, we haven’t been dropping balls at all,” Washington offensive coordinator Tim Lappano said. “Most of our guys, it looked like they were trying to go before they really had the ball and we just can’t have stuff like that.
“We trust our receivers and they’re good, but they need to realize that is something we can’t have and I think they do. They just didn’t concentrate like they needed to.”
Stanback, who was under intense criticism from the media and fans all week for his poor play against Oklahoma, had one of his best days under center, despite at least six drops from his receivers.
“I trust my receivers,” Stanback said. “I get pissed when we have drops, but (the receivers) get even more pissed off when they drop it.
“We came in here and we knew they were going to try to clog the box and not let us run. We still have to do a better job of moving the ball on the ground, but we answered the challenge throwing the rock.”
On the day, Stanback completed 15 of 26 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 91 yards and another score.
“Last week I was thinking too much,” Stanback admitted. “I knew it was a big game. I was thinking they were going to do certain things and I wasn’t seeing it and I wasn’t reacting. This week we made it a point to just go out and relax and just play.”
In their third drive of the game, Washington appeared to catch a little momentum offensively as they took the ball at their won 25 and Lappano set his best weapon loose.
Stanback completed passes of to WR Marcel Reece for nine yards, Anthony Russo for 12 and then hit Reece on a deep pass down the right seam for 38 yards. On the play Reece went up over Bulldog FS Vincent Mays and CB Marcus McCauley.
After Reece gave the team first-and-goal from the Fresno State five on a bubble-screen, Washington’s offense lost two yards on the next two plays and it was up to Stanback to make a play – and make a play he did.
He dropped back and felt pressure from his left. He rolled right and hit TE Johnie Kirton in the back of the endzone between two defenders, drawing a thunderous roar from the Husky faithful.
The teams traded punts on the next few possessions, setting up Stanback for, yet another, gut-check drive.
From his own 13, Stanback marched the offense down the field on a big play with his legs.
Fresno State LB Ahijah Lane beat RT Chad Mackline and Stanback escaped up the middle of the field. He outran LB Dwayne Andrews and DE Tyler Clutts and then put a knee-buckling move on SS Josh Sherley before finally being tackled by McCauley after a 36-yard gain.
RB Louis Rankin took the next play around the left side and appeared to score after diving in from the five yard line, but after replay showed he had stepped out, the Huskies had second-and-one from the Bulldog six with 3:10 remaining in the first half.
Stanback took the next snap out of the shotgun, ran to his right and beat the entire Bulldog defense for a six-yard touchdown and the Huskies were up 14-7, but Fresno State wasn’t finished.
Washington’s kickoff coverage unit allowed Fresno State KR Jaron Fairman to return the ensuing kickoff 45 yards to Washington’s 49 yard line, but the Bulldogs were only able to make it to the Husky 24 with 30 seconds remaining.
K Clint Stitser missed the field goal wide left and the Huskies headed into the locker room with a seven-point lead and momentum on their side.
But as fans have seen over the past two years, Washington rarely capitalizes on their success. Washington immediately went three-and-out on the first drive of the second-half and Fresno State was able to get their one big play when QB Tom Brandstate hit WR Paul Williams with a picture perfect pass between Jason Wells and Matt Fountaine for a 38-yard pass.
“It was a good route by (Williams),” Brandstater said. “I just saw them come under the route and so I threw it over the top and to the outside and he caught it and took it in. It was a nice catch by him.”
That’s when the fans started to get a tad nervous. They had been here before. Against Air Force and Washington State last year the Huskies had leads heading into the final five minutes of the game only to lose in heart-breaking fashion.
But Stanback was having none of it.
He took his team on a nine-play, 50-yard drive ending when he found Shackelford in the back of the endzone for an eight-yard touchdown.
“That was big for us,” Stanback said. “We knew we could go down and score and we thought that we had a chance to make a statement with that drive to go in and win the game and we did.”
Shackelford had Sherley draped all over him but still came up with the go-ahead score.
However, Fresno State benefited when the Huskies hit offensive lineman Ryan Wendell after a short kickoff from kicker Mike Braunstein. Wendell signaled a fair catch and was hit by LB Linus Chou after he made the catch on the Bulldog 33.
With the ensuing personal foul marked off, Fresno State marched right down the field on the back of Wright who would end the drive by going over the right side from one yard out bringing the Bulldogs to within one at 21-20.
Wright finished the day with 142 yards and two touchdowns, but Washington DE Ceasar Rayford came up with the play of the game when he was able to get his hand up and block Stitser’s extra point attempt.
“I didn’t even see it,” Stitser said. “I had my head down. I thought I hit it okay, but he made a great play and got up high for it. I didn’t do my job and I take all the blame.”
Washington also benefited from Stitser kicking the ball out of bounds giving the Huskies excellent field position at their own 35, with 4:07 remaining on the clock.
After stalling at the Bulldog 46, P Sean Douglas was able down a punt at Fresno State’s 16 and then it was time for the defense and the crowd to step up.
“The crowd was great today,” RB Kenny James said. “They really energized us and I haven’t heard it like that around here in a while. It was great and I’m sure it made things difficult on them.”
Fresno State committed two false-start penalties and then Brandstater was intercepted by S Mesphin Forrester and the Huskies were able to kneel-down to run out the clock.
The one-point victory is Washington’s first since 1998 when they defeated Oregon State 35-34.
Washington now looks forward to conference play as they will host UCLA next week at 4 p.m. and it will be broadcast on TBS.