SEATTLE — It evaded the Washington Huskies in San Antonio two years ago, that eighth victory, fading with each juke and completion by Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Last year, the dream escaped again in Pullman, then died in Las Vegas, back-to-back losses that forced UW into its third consecutive season of exactly seven victories.
7-6. 7-6. 7-6.
So Friday’s workmanlike, 27-17 victory over Washington State at Husky Stadium will mean more to UW than a typical Apple Cup win. It is about more than senior quarterback Keith Price and his bounce-back third quarter, more than Bishop Sankey and his 200 yards to surpass Corey Dillon’s 17-year-old single-season rushing record, more than fourth-quarter interceptions by Greg Ducre and John Timu to seal the trophy.
No, this victory carries far more significance than that. And coach Steve Sarkisian knows exactly what it is.
The Huskies finally winning eight games? Well, there is that, sure.
But more important to Sarkisian: “I’m happy about it, that you guys don’t ask me about it anymore, quite honestly. It wasn’t a big deal to me in that it was the number. I’m just tired of answering questions about it.”
Instead, the questions were about Price, who played through a sore throwing shoulder after missing last week’s game at Oregon State, and his second-half revival after a first half that included a lost fumble, an interception and five completions in eight attempts.
There were questions, too, about Sankey, who also broke the school’s career rushing touchdown record, to which Sarkisian said, in part: “He’s a stud.”
Sankey carried 34 times for 200 yards — and caught a crucial screen pass early in the third quarter that went 40 yards and changed UW’s offensive tenor — and in turn carried the Huskies to their eighth victory, a feat last accomplished when Rick Neuheisel coached them to an 8-4 record in 2001.
Besting that mark is still possible. Washington (8-4, 5-4 Pac-12) awaits a bowl invitation, perhaps to the Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco, perhaps again to Las Vegas, perhaps to the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.
“It’s huge for the program,” Price said of win No. 8. “Obviously I wanted to win a Pac-12 championship. That didn’t happen. So I knew we needed to finish with a better record than I’ve ever had.”
The Huskies did that despite playing one of their less remarkable offensive games of the season. Price laughed and said the first half wasn’t one of his best, which was an understatement. UW had only 144 yards of total offense at halftime and trailed, 10-3.
They insisted there was no panic.
“Everybody was fine. We were fine,” said Price, who completed 15 of 20 passes for 181 yards. “I was confident we were going to win the game. I knew I just needed to get going for our offense to continue to work.”
So he did.
UW’s defense forced a WSU punt after the Cougars (6-6, 4-5) stalled at the Huskies’ 45-yard line. Price then led an eight-play, 85-yard touchdown drive — the screen to Sankey was the catalyst — capped by an 18-yard throw to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
“We were just doing what we usually do,” Seferian-Jenkins said.
WSU punted again. UW scored again, this time on a 7-yard run by Sankey, a carry that boosted his yardage total ahead of Dillon’s 1996 record of 1,695. It also was his 35th career rushing touchdown, breaking a tie with Napoleon Kaufman for the UW record. Sankey finished the day with 1,775 yards on the season.
Another WSU punt preceded Travis Coons’ second field goal of the game, and just like that, the Huskies had posted a 17-point quarter while keeping Connor Halliday and WSU’s pass-heavy offense off the scoreboard.
The Cougars did break through with 7:30 left in the game, when Halliday threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Dom Williams to cut UW’s lead to 20-17. A UW punt gave the ball back to WSU, trailing by three points with 5:26 remaining and the game feeling a whole lot like last year’s Cougars comeback.
But Ducre dived to the turf to intercept Halliday’s second pass of the drive, and Price led a 37-yard scoring jaunt, capped by his 2-yard touchdown run with 2:08 to play.
That made it 27-17, and Halliday threw two incompletions before Timu picked him off to secure the victory.
Three kneel-downs by Price, playing in his final home game, preceded an on-field celebration reminiscent of the last day of school.
“I’m happy that we got the job done,” Sankey said of toppling the seven-win barrier. “It’s something that we worked all week for, and all season for.”
There still is work to do. But this year, UW’s bowl trip will be about augmenting an eight-win record instead of trying to salvage it.