One good half was good enough for the Huskies to beat Stanford and keep themselves in the Pac-12 North race. The Cardinal nearly erased a 21-0 halftime deficit but questionable clock management cost them a shot at the end.
The Huskies played one good half of football Saturday night.
It was good enough.
Safety Taylor Rapp made a leaping interception in the end zone on Stanford’s Hail Mary throw on the game’s final play, and the Huskies held on for a taut 27-23 victory after nearly blowing a 21-point halftime lead late Saturday before an announced crowd of 69,069 at Husky Stadium.
Rapp picked off the pass from K.J. Costello and immediately took a knee in the end zone, clinching a victory that keeps the Huskies (7-3, 5-2 Pac-12) in the thick of the Pac-12 championship hunt with two games remaining in the regular season.
“We started fast, and then they got the momentum in the second half and we were able to do just enough to hold on,” UW senior quarterback Jake Browning said. “There’s definitely some relief, and it just feels good to get a win.”
UW has its bye next week before hosting Oregon State on Nov. 17 and closing out the regular season with the Apple Cup in Pullman on Nov. 23.
Browning and Myles Gaskin led a revitalized offensive effort in the first half for the Huskies, who jumped out to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Stanford rallied in the second half, and Costello’s 33-yard touchdown pass to Trenton Irwin with 3:24 left brought the Cardinal within 27-23. The Huskies caught a break when Collin Riccitelli, Stanford’s backup kicker, missed the point-after try.
On the Huskies’ next offensive snap, Gaskin fumbled at the end of a 10-yard run, but he was saved by a heads-up recovery by senior tight end Drew Sample at the UW 35-yard line.
The Huskies ended up punting the ball back to Stanford, which took over at its 15-yard line with 2:05 left and no timeouts.
Costello then completed his first four passes to drive Stanford to UW’s 35-yard line. He spiked the ball down there with 10 seconds left, leaving the Cardinal with two more chances at the end zone.
Costello was hit as he threw his first pass toward the end zone, and UW’s Byron Murphy made a diving attempt at the incomplete pass thrown short of the goal line.
On the game’s final snap, with three seconds on the clock and the crowd noise reaching a crescendo, Costello threw a jump ball into the end zone. Rapp tracked it the whole way, coming down with the Huskies’ third interception of the night off Costello.
The Huskies had been stagnant on offense for the majority of the second half until driving 54 yards, on nine plays, midway through the fourth quarter. Redshirt freshman walk-on Peyton Henry converted a 38-yard field goal to push the Huskies’ lead to 27-17 with 5:09 remaining.
Stanford then needed just 99 seconds to drive 80 yards, cutting UW’s lead to four on the Costello TD pass to Irwin.
Gaskin, UW’s all-time leading rusher, returned from a shoulder injury to rush for 148 yards on 28 carries. His absence the past two games had been glaring, as the Huskies were held to a season-low 91 yards rushing in last week’s 12-10 loss at California.
“It’s nice to have No. 9 back. He’s a game-changer,” UW coach Chris Petersen said.
Browning responded to his benching in the second half against California by rushing for one touchdown in the first quarter Saturday, on a designed QB run, and throwing an 11-yard TD pass to Sample.
Early in the week, in the buildup to the penultimate start of his career at Husky Stadium, Browning and Petersen talked out the quarterback’s frustration from the benching.
“We sat down and I didn’t shy away from the fact that I was pissed off about it, and I get that’s not my job to do all that. I think anybody in that situation would have been pretty pissed off, and I was. I’m not going to lie about that,” Browning said, in his first comments since the benching. “I was pretty frustrated and pissed off. But I decided to move on, didn’t let that affect our season. Sat down, talked it out and I think it’s a little bump in the road.
“Coach Pete’s my guy. Been through a lot with him. I tried to handle it as maturely as possible so it didn’t turn into some huge drama or whatever. Just tried to move on to this game, and I figured if we win this game everyone will feel a lot better, and luckily, we did that.”
Everything looked easy for the Huskies in the first half Saturday, and Gaskin’s 6-yard TD run early in the second quarter gave the them a 21-0 lead.
“There’s no way to put into words, because that guy (Gaskin) is unbelievable,” Browning said. “When us two are back there, I feel really good.”
UW’s defense dominated the first half, too.
Stanford running back Bryce Love was held to just 6 yards on four first-half carries, and the Huskies intercepted Costello twice in the first half.
Murphy had his first interception of the season late in the first quarter, which set up Gaskin’s touchdown.
Later in the second quarter, Greg Gaines, the Huskies’ 320-pound senior defensive tackle, had his first interception of the season — the first he’s ever had, he said later. He dived to bring in a pass tipped by Ben Burr-Kirven, and a raucous celebration ensued on the UW sideline.
“One of the greatest moments of my life,” Gaines said afterward.
Stanford nearly completed a great comeback in the second half. Costello finished 29-of-43 passing for 347 yards with two touchdowns and those three interceptions, and Stanford outgained Washington 271-146 in the second half.
The Huskies had three three-and-outs in the second half, and questions remain about the offense heading into the bye week.
“I thought we could have played better on offense,” Browning said, “but I’m friggin’ happy with the win.”