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Sunday, October 10, 2004 - Page updated at 05:14 P.M.
By Bob Condotta
It had been 321 days since the Washington Huskies had been able to gather in their locker room and sing their fight song and mean it.
It had been 59 days since they had started practice for this season with high hopes but, until now, little reward.
And it had been so long since they could simply laugh, joke and have a good time that they could barely remember.
"This isn't just a monkey that's off our backs," said Washington center Brad Vanneman after the Huskies beat San Jose State 21-6 yesterday at Husky Stadium for their first win of the season. "It was a gorilla at this point."
So the fact that the win came against the Spartans, an underfunded program from a smaller conference, and that it had all the aesthetic value of Cheese Whiz, was completely beside the point as far as they were concerned.
"It's a win, so I could care less if it was pretty," Vanneman said. "I could care less if we score 170 points. We won the game and you can't take that for granted playing college football."
Not with this Huskies team, anyway.
The victory wasn't sealed until the Huskies finally got their running game going in the second half to break loose from a 7-3 halftime lead.
Against what is statistically the nation's worst rushing defense, Kenny James ran for 179 of his career-high 189 yards in the second half and scored touchdowns on runs of 52 and 18 yards as the Huskies won for the first time since beating Washington State in the Apple Cup last Nov. 22.
"This just relieves the tension," said linebacker Scott White. "Coach (Keith) Gilbertson said after the game, 'Everybody take a huge breath.' And that was the feeling of all the guys. This will loosen us up a lot getting a win like this."
The Huskies rushed for 259 yards, with 189 coming in the second half after Casey Paus had replaced Carl Bonnell at quarterback. Bonnell started the game, then left in the second quarter with a groin injury.
But the real star of the day was the Washington defense, which allowed just 133 yards the fewest against UW since 1996 and held the Spartans out of the end zone despite being put in threatening positions all day by the Huskies' offense and special teams.
San Jose State started three drives inside UW's 20-yard line thanks to two interceptions and a dropped punt snap. Five times the Spartans moved inside the 20.
But San Jose State, which had defeated Rice 70-63 last Saturday, managed just two field goals. The Spartans twice were stopped on downs, once when fumbling the ball away on fourth down at the 1 and once missing a field goal.
"We were getting more confident," said Washington linebacker Joe Lobendahn. "It doesn't matter if (the offense) turns the ball over. We just have to go out there and stop them from scoring. If we stop them, eventually we will win the game. We did a great job to hold them to six points."
The Huskies played more zone pass defense than they had previously, in part to help prevent the big plays that have proved so troublesome this season and that had been such a key part of San Jose State's incredible win over Rice last week.
The plan worked as San Jose State threw for just 22 yards the Spartans had 372 passing yards against Rice and didn't have any plays from scrimmage longer than 22 yards.
"The whole feeling on the sidelines was a lot different," said White. "Guys were into the game. Guys were fired up. It seemed like guys were itching to get back out there, and that was huge."
Still, the Huskies rarely felt comfortable even though they never trailed.
Bonnell led an 80-yard drive the first time UW had the ball, running for 65 yards on his own. But he was slowed by the groin injury and threw two interceptions, one of which led to a San Jose State field goal that made it 7-3 at halftime.
After a Huskies goal-line stand in the third quarter, the Washington offense drove 99 yards, with James running the last 52 for a touchdown.
San Jose State responded with its only substantial drive of the game to get a field goal, making it 14-6. But the Huskies came right back with a 61-yard drive, all runs, to make it 21-6 on an 18-yard touchdown scamper by James.
Washington players took pride in the fact they had come together to get the win after the loss at Stanford last Saturday had everyone questioning everything about this team.
"We had some aggressive days of practice, we were having fun playing the game, and that carried into this game," Vanneman said. "We're 1-4 but at least we got one. At least we don't have that zero in front of our win column anymore. We know it's a tremendous uphill climb if we are going to do anything with this season. But I think we are certainly on the right track now. Hopefully this will be the start of something good."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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