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College Football – "The Immaculate Footception" Will Live Forever in Washington Husky Lore – Part 2
(Editor’s note: This is the second part of a story about the life of a college football season in just two games – one of great heartache and the other of great joy. The team this season was the University of Washington, and the events that unfolded were recalled to Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities. Here’s what really happened and when.)
As disheartening as Washington’s loss to Notre Dame was, what was about to happen was more than the Huskies could have ever expected or imagined. It will live forever in the anniversaries of Washington Huskies football lore.
With a current season record of 2-3, the Washington Huskies would return to their home court and await the arrival of the Arizona Wildcat’s impressive 3-1 record with wins over Central Michigan and Northern Arizona at home and over Oregon State on the road. Their only loss was by 10 points to the 12th ranked Iowa Hawkeyes in another road game.
Arizona coach Mike Stoops (brother of Oklahoma Sooners coach Bob Stoops) went 8-5 last year with a win over Brigham Young in the Las Vegas Bowl. The Wildcats finally got something going on the national level, and they aren’t eager to take a step back.
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian quarterbacked Brigham Young in 1995, leading the Cougars to a 13-1 regular season record, a 19-15 win over Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl, and the Western Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year. His BIU team became the first in NCAA history to win 14 games in a season. Sarkisian’s career passer efficiency rating of 162.0 is 3rd all-time in the NCAA.
Sark had to convince their players to keep playing hard and believe that Notre Dame was just a blip on the screen in their onward march to success.
At game time, the Huskies looked willing, but not always able. Arizona moved the ball at will, racking up 461 yards of offense and successfully throwing enough bubble passes to start a bubblegum company.
Wildcat quarterback Nick Foles has made a career out of taking the ball under center, stepping back and rocketing wideouts at the line of scrimmage. Arizona’s receivers responded by throwing a short yardage before the defenders could get close and scramble, stopping the long gain.
Arizona exposed the Huskies’ weakness and exploited it like an insider stock tip trader. Washington just doesn’t have the talent to play receivers one-on-one right now, so they need to play off the line of scrimmage to avoid deep hits and give up long plays.
Foles would go 39-of-53 for 384 yards and a touchdown before the night was over, leaving Arizona with just 77 total yards rushing on 30 carries.
The Wildcats led 33-21 with less than 3 minutes to play and it looked like Washington was floating dead in the water. But then again, this wasn’t last year’s 0-12 Huskies team.
Washington’s offensive 11 was still playing tight and convincing when a streaking Jake Locker found tight end Kavari Middleton in the corner of the end zone for a 25-yard TD strike to bring the Huskies within 5 at 33-28 with 2:55 left.
Sark then did what many coaches wouldn’t have done, he decided to punt the Wildcats instead of going for an onside kick and a possible immediate possession. It’s called having faith in your defensive coordinator—Nick “The Wild Man” Holt—and his affection, but don’t break the stubborn.
All night long, the Huskies were beaten time and time again on the bubble pass rush. You could hardly blame the Arizona coaching staff for not calling the play again; Conventional wisdom says that you call a play that works until the defense stops you.
So once again, Nick Foles threw to wideout Delashawn Dean, but Foles’ pass was low and behind the receiver, who fell to the turf trying to catch the pigskin. Linebacker Mason Foster intentionally ran over the play on the defensive end, and words are a very poor substitute for what happened next.
Foster’s aggressiveness pushed Foles to the limit and his pass bounced off the receiver’s foot and into the air where Foster juggled it for a moment before turning and running untouched for a 37-yard interception and touchdown return, putting the Huskies up 34 – 33 with 2:37 left.
The Washington faithful, who had come alive when the Huskies scored earlier in the game, now went wild with frenzied excitement. And the players? Well, let’s just say the reaction was overwhelming joy. And the coaches? Maybe frantic, joyful and utterly unstoppable in their belief that the Huskies can and will win by playing hard, playing right and having fun.
There were no visible priests at the time, and the mythical “touchdown Jesus” image seen from Notre Dame Stadium was not transferred from Notre Dame to Husky Stadium for the game, but a miracle of the football gods happened before our eyes. . They had had enough of Arizona’s passes and it was time for redemption.
Call it luck, call it bouncing the ball, or call it what I do – “Immaculate Footception”, a slightly clumsy term, but pretty accurate. Whatever you call it, it will be forever etched in Washington football history for years to come. If the Huskies go on to qualify and win a bowl game this year, the lucky event and Mason Foster will be cemented in legend.
Sark went for the 2-point conversion, and Jake Locker connected with sophomore (and budding star) Jermaine Kearse to make it happen, giving Washington a 36-33 lead.
Mason Foster had a great night with 11 tackles, a pair of key stops on Arizona’s final drive, and an interception and a moment of glory that will take at least a lifetime to forget and a million years to repeat exactly.
Washington’s miraculous play brought back great memories of the “Flawless Reception” during the 1972 playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders. Late in the game, Pittsburgh’s receiver was hit hard while trying to catch the ball, the ball was deflected and just before it hit the ground, it was caught by Franco Harris, who picked it up out of the air and then ran for the game-winning touchdown for the Steelers.
Pittsburgh struggled for 4 decades to win a playoff game, and The Immaculate Reception, which NFL movies called the greatest play of all time, led to the Steelers eventually winning 4 Super Bowls before the end of the decade.
The icing on the cake came when Arizona had one last chance to pull out the win that should have been theirs.
The Huskies’ defensive line, which hadn’t done much all night, came alive when its top pass, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, got in touch with his Samoan roots and sacked Nick Foles on a critical play. On the next play, true freshman cornerback (and future NFL player) Desmond Trufant intercepted a pass from Foles with 36 seconds remaining to cap the Dawgs’ improbable 36-33 win.
Trust me when I say that University of Washington football and Huskies madness is on the rise. Look for plenty of lost Dawgs to return to Husky Stadium for the next few home games.
Husky fans in the great Pacific Northwest aren’t drinking the Kool-Aid as they say, they’re enjoying the sweet taste of success. Even the soccer gods are so pleased they decided to order a high definition cable connection.
(Editor’s note: This is part 2 of a 2-part series.)
Copyright © 2009 Ed Bagley
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