It was the last real play Keith Price would run at Husky Stadium, and the Washington Huskies senior quarterback wanted to savor the experience.
Price faked a handoff to Bishop Sankey at the Washington State 2-yard line, drawing the attention of a Cougars defense that had grown accustomed to the record-breaking running back barreling into the line. Alone with the ball, heading toward the barren end zone, Price slowed down. He was determined to make the moment linger, to take a few extra steps, and when there were no more football steps to take, he broke out some dance steps.
“I told a couple of my teammates that if I got into the end zone, I was going to do a little celebration dance,” Price said late Friday afternoon, about an hour after his touchdown put the finishing touch on a 27-17 Huskies victory. “It was just me having fun, and I had a lot of fun — especially in the second half.”
Washington State showed up at Montlake and, as anticipated, gave its intrastate rivals 3 hours and 19 minutes of attitude. But Price’s peskiest opponent was Keith Price, whose ailing right shoulder turned out to be less problematic than a pulse rate accelerated by the traditional Senior Day festivities.
“I remember Matt Leinart’s last senior game,” said Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian, a former offensive coordinator at USC who helped tutor the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner. “We were playing UCLA and he started tearing up in the tunnel. The first half of that
game was really hard for him, and I think the first half was just as hard for Keith.
“He was coming off an injury,” Sarkisian continued. “He didn’t play last week, he wants to play great, and was just a little bit off. Not even physically, he was actually off mentally.”
At one point in the first half, Price either fumbled or threw an interception on three of four consecutive possessions. The other was a three-and-out.
To watch Price commit mistakes unbecoming a senior leader was to wonder: Had Sarkisian erred in keeping redshirt freshman Cyler Miles on the bench in favor of Price?
After all, Price was only two weeks removed from sustaining a shoulder hit so severe he’s still wincing when he throws the ball. But most of the zip on his passes returned when the team practiced Thursday, and Sarkisian can be forgiven if he’s loyal to fifth-year senior quarterbacks on Senior Day.
“I knew my shoulder was gonna hurt,” said Price. “It’s not just going to heal in two weeks. But it had no effect on the mistakes that I made. Scrambling out and trying to make a play when stuff’s not there, I need to throw the ball away. I’m too old to be making those type of mistakes.
“But it was the whole atmosphere of Senior Day, my last home game. I was just trying to do too much.”
On the Huskies’ first series of the second half, facing a third-and-5 at their own 20-yard line, Price hit Sankey with a screen pass in the left flat – nothing spectacular, but Price didn’t overthink the situation, he didn’t try to do too much, and Sankey took it from there.
The completion, which went for 40 yards, seemed to liberate Price from the atmospheric pressure of a Senior Day celebrated before the Apple Cup. On third-and-7 at the WSU 18, Price delivered a perfect touchdown strike to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. It tied the score at 10-10 with 9:19 remaining in the third quarter, but the Huskies now had some momentum to go with their quarterback’s newly found mojo.
“I knew what I needed to do,” said Price. “Trust me. I’ve had worse games than that. I’ve been battle tested. I knew I’d bounce back.”
Concluded Sarkisian: “It’s been a great journey for Keith. I think the last five years of his life are going to shape him for the next 60-70 years of his life. He’s been through a lot. He’s been through a lot physically, he’s been through a lot emotionally, but every time that guy shows his tremendous character and stands tall and doesn’t waver.”
One more game remains in Price’s college career, a bowl invitation that will give the 2013 Huskies a chance to win nine games — nine more than they won when the high-school star from Compton, Calif., committed to Washington in 2008.
“We were a decent team,” he recalled of the Huskies inherited by Sarkisian in 2009, when the coach turned 0-12 into 5-7 while Price spent the season as a redshirt freshman. “But we have a better team now — a championship-caliber team. That was my only thing: helping turn this program around.
“That was my biggest goal, and I achieved it.”
As for the uncharacteristic display of jubilation after his final carry in Husky Stadium resulted in a touchdown, the dance was, by end-zone celebration standards, tasteful, restrained and short.
And yet it was just long enough to keep Keith Price in the moment for the next 60 or 70 years.