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Originally published November 26, 2011 at 7:56 PM | Page modified November 26, 2011 at 10:52 PM

Huskies enjoy their well-deserved rewards

Key defensive stands at the right time help Washington

Seattle Times staff reporter

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In an old rivalry played in a new venue, the Washington Huskies rediscovered themselves.

They'd been lost — and losing — the past five games, four of which were decisive defeats. Results they admit were taking a toll.

"People were trying to doubt us and not believe in us," said running back Chris Polk. "This week was real gut-check time, like no matter what (UW had to win)."

Win the Huskies did in the 104th playing of the game between Washington and Washington State. It was a 38-21 victory in front of 64,559 at CenturyLink Field, the contest having been moved to allow for a three-week head start on the renovation of Husky Stadium.

Now the Huskies will wait, likely until Dec. 4, to find out where they will play next. At 7-5, UW is headed to either the Alamo Bowl or the Holiday Bowl with a winning season assured no matter the outcome.

WSU, meanwhile, finishes 4-8 overall and 9-40 in the four-year tenure of Paul Wulff, and the defeat only raised speculation about his future.

"I thought our kids were ready to play," Wulff said. "We came into a pretty tough environment and the crowd noise had an impact on us early in the game. They (the Huskies) settled down a bit and had more plays than we did."

And ultimately, it was the same formula UW used to jump out to its 5-1 start this season that allowed it to win a third consecutive Apple Cup — a big-play offense, a special-teams jump start, and some timely defense — yes, defense.

Washington's much-maligned defense bent a few times, but got the key stops when needed, and also unleashed a pass rush that racked up a season-high seven sacks.

"Washington State is an explosive offensive football team and for our defense to step up and get the quarterback pressure that we knew was going to be needed to be successful in this game, I thought that was a big impact," said UW coach Steve Sarkisian.

Senior defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu said he and fellow seniors Cort Dennison and Everrette Thompson got together early in the week and talked about "getting our defense back on track. We are the leaders of the defense and no matter how bad people feel about the last few weeks we have to show the enthusiasm and when we have fun, they'll have fun too. ... Everybody played for each other."

From the first play on. The Huskies forced a punt situation on WSU's first possession, then called a play called "Cougar Block," designed to take advantage of what they had seen on film as a personnel advantage in a certain WSU punt formation.

"Just the way they aligned — it was unequal to our guys," said UW's Jesse Callier. Linebacker Thomas Tutogi broke through to block the punt, which bounced to Callier near the end zone for an easy touchdown.

Washington then scored early in the second quarter on a 16-yard pass from Keith Price to Kasen Williams, beginning a breakout night for the freshman receiver from Skyline — and a record-setting one for Price. His three touchdown passes gave him 29, breaking UW's season record of 28 set by Cody Pickett in 2002.

As is the custom in the Apple Cup, though, the Cougars fought back, taking advantage of a missed UW field goal to score two quick touchdowns on Marshall Lobbestael passes and tie the game at 14 with just more than two minutes left in the half. A short kickoff, however, gave UW good field position, and the Huskies decided to be aggressive, fitting the theme of their day.

Sarkisian said he felt UW had been playing "small ball" the past few weeks, content to get short, safe gains.

"I wanted to make sure we were hitting some doubles and triples and getting the ball down the field," he said.

From WSU's 39, Price hit Williams in the open field. Williams, seeing WSU's Nolan Washington approaching, decided to use the skills that won him the Class 4A state high-jump title last year at 6 feet, 10 inches and leapt over the defender to the UW 21.

"A ridiculous play," Sarkisian said in awe.

On the next snap, Price rolled and hit an open Williams for a score with 24 seconds left to make it 21-14 at halftime.

"They had captured a lot of the momentum and emotion of the game," Sarkisian said. "That kind of just lifted our spirits back up and got us going in the second half."

UW grabbed a 28-14 lead midway through the fourth quarter, but the Cougars again rallied to make it 28-21 heading into the fourth.

Down 31-21 with just more than 10 minutes left, the Cougars went for broke from their own 47, Wulff calling a double pass, the ball ending up back in Lobbestael's hands. Unfortunately for him, first target Kristoff Williams fell down. Lobbestael decided to throw to Marquess Wilson, who was covered well by Desmond Trufant. Trufant won the tip, batting the ball to teammate Sean Parker, who returned it to the UW 31.

Said Parker: "They tried to get us looking in the backfield but we were already deep, so they took three receivers vertical and I just had my (guy) and when I seen him throw the ball I just turned and ran to where the ball was going."

The Huskies then quickly drove for a backbreaking TD, Polk scoring from a yard out with 5:23 left.

And when it was over, while the Huskies celebrated, the Cougars commiserated.

"Bummed out," said WSU receiver Jared Karstetter. "We just never really got ourselves over the hump."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @bcondotta

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