When the Washington Huskies reported to Husky Stadium on Saturday, a loss to Stanford and an 0-4 start to the season seemed like a worst-case scenario.
Then something worse happened.
Coach Tyrone Willingham’s Huskies not only fell to 0-4 overall and 0-2 in the Pacific-10 Conference with a 35-28 loss to Stanford, but they also lost quarterback Jake Locker for an undetermined period with a broken thumb in his right hand.
“This one is very difficult for me to stand before you because I felt like we had a football team that would be able to go out and win this football game,” Willingham said. “Not being disrespectful to Stanford, because they played a good game, but I felt like we could win the football game.”
Locker went down in the second quarter. He hurt his hand while throwing a block as the Huskies were trying to fight back from a 14-7 deficit. He remained in the game one more play, wildly missing a wide open D’Andre Goodwin.
Then Locker went to the sideline and was instantly taken to the UW locker room, where X-rays confirmed the broken thumb in his throwing hand. No immediate prognosis was given, but the grim faces all around indicated that this is a long-term injury.
With Locker out, redshirt freshman Ronnie Fouch came on and finished the drive by taking the Huskies to the tying score.
However, the UW defense couldn’t hold that lead until halftime.
Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard, formerly of Clover Park High School, hit Doug Baldwin on a medium crossing pattern, and Baldwin turned it up the sideline for a 61-yard touchdown.
That sent the Cardinal into the locker room with a 21-14 lead it would never surrender.
Locker left the game having completed five of nine passes for 51 yards. Fouch came on to complete 13 of 27 for 186 yards, passed for one touchdown and ran for another.
However, Stanford (3-2, 2-1) safely stayed ahead the rest of the way.
Fouch got the final score on a quarterback sneak with 1 minute, 25 seconds left. But Washington’s fate was sealed when the Huskies couldn’t recover the ensuing onside kick, and Stanford was able to run out the clock.
“I though Ronnie stepped in and did an excellent job,” Willingham said. “… I thought he stepped in and kept our football team moving in the right direction. Did it change some of the things that we do? Yes. When you miss Jake you miss another weapon, another chance to put pressure on the defense from a different standpoint, but I though Ronnie did an excellent job.”
Beyond the loss of Locker, the crusher for the Huskies’ path was a defense that gave up 466 yards – and 244 of those came on the ground despite Washington’s agreement all week that its top defensive priority was stopping the run.
And the Cardinal ran up that total despite a first-quarter injury to Toby Gerhart, who came into the game as the Pac-10’s third-leading rusher and left Saturday after gaining 14 yards on two carries.
Picking up the slack was senior Anthony Kimble, who carried 15 times for 157 yards.
Meanwhile, Pritchard threw over the Huskies’ run-oriented defense, completing 16 of 24 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
“We couldn’t put ourselves in the right position to bounce back to keep our offense on the field to get it done,” Willingham said. “So with that we suffered a very disappointing loss, and I probably have to say having lost to this football team – Stanford – two times has been very difficult, very painful.”
(A previously winless Stanford team had defeated Washington at Husky Stadium in the 2006 season.)
On Saturday, the game had been as even as the score sounded until Locker went down.
Both teams began the game by losing fumbles on their opening possessions.
Washington broke ahead on its next possession, a five-play, 34-yard drive capped by a Brandon Johnson 1-yard plunge.
Stanford answered immediately with a seven-play, 62-yard drive capped by a 13-yard run by Kimble.
The Cardinal took its first lead midway through the second quarter when tight end Jim Dray beat UW linebacker Joshua Gage across the middle for an 11-yard score from Pritchard.
Then came the Locker injury, the defeat, and another week of waiting for a breakthrough victory.
The Huskies will return to action at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Arizona (3-1) after what promises to be a very long, very unhappy week for UW coaches, players and fans.
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808
Additional notes and quotes from the game are available at blogs.thenewstribune.com/uwsports
Huskies game in review
Stanford 35, Washington 28
Players of the game
Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard completed 16 of 24 passes for 224 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Pritchard is a junior from Clover Park High School. Also, Cardinal tailback Anthony Kimble came on in relief of the injured starter Toby Gerhart and led all rushers with 157 yards on 15 carries. In a game where establishing the running game was the key, Kimble got the job done.
Husky of the game
Redshirt freshman Ronnie Fouch took over the UW offense, subbing for the injured Jake Locker. Fouch completed 13 of 27 passes for 186 yards and one touchdown and ran for another score.
In the final minutes of the first half, Pritchard hit receiver Doug Baldwin on a medium crossing pattern, and Baldwin turned it up the sideline for a 61-yard touchdown. That allowed the Cardinal to head into the locker room with a 21-14 halftime lead they never relinquished.
UW quarterback Locker left the game in the second quarter with a broken thumb, suffered when he threw a block, coach Ty Willingham said. … Linebacker Donald Butler also left the game after taking a head-on collision while trying to make a tackle. He suffered a concussion and did not return. … Starting UW tailback David Freeman suffered an apparent foot injury late in the game. … On the other side, Stanford tailback Gerhart, who came into the game as the No. 3 rusher in the Pacific-10 Conference, left the game late in the first quarter after apparently having his bell rung by Butler. He did not return, ending the game with 14 yards on two carries.
Washington recorded no sacks for the fourth consecutive game. … Washington’s game captains were Butler, Locker, Juan Garcia and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim.
4:30 p.m. Saturday vs. Arizona at Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz.
Don Ruiz, The News Tribune