The University of Washington football team on Friday night went missing in the Arizona desert. Search parties were sent out. For the longest time, people didn't hold out much hope of finding these guys.
However, the Huskies finally showed up after wandering around aimlessly for a couple of hours. They kept an already disastrous season from hitting rock bottom with a loss to America's worst team, scoring twice in the fourth quarter to pull out a decidedly unimpressive 21-16 victory over the winless Arizona Wildcats.
With 6:44 left to play, Rome Odunze caught an 8-yard touchdown pass from Dylan Morris for the game-winner and returned Husky breathing levels to normal.
Arizona (0-7 overall, 0-3 Pac-12) was saddled with a now 19-game losing streak, the longest in the nation, Pac-12 history and school annals. It might have been the home team's best chance at winning this season.
The Wildcats had every chance to put away the Huskies, but freshman quarterback Will Plummer threw a fateful interception with just under 13 minutes remaining to defensive tackle Tuli Letuligasenoa, opening the gates for two late UW scores.
"That's my first interception," Letuligasenoa said. "When I first caught it, I didn't think I had it in my hands, but I looked down and everybody kept hitting me. [It was] 'I really caught this.' I just knew it was a big play for my team, a huge turning point."
Before a sparsely filled Arizona Stadium and a national ESPN2 TV audience, the Huskies (3-4 overall, 2-2 Pac-12) conjured up memories of the Tyrone Willingham era as nothing worked for them in Tucson for the better part of three quarters.
They wore all-white uniforms for the first time all season, which almost seemed to be a form of surrender.
It was extremely rough going for the longest time under Friday Night Lights.
"It shows the resiliency we have on this team," Morris said in a postgame ESPN2 interview, maybe hoping more than believing it. "At halftime, we had a talk. We said, 'Let's do it.' "
The Huskies surprisingly showed up for kickoff without five key players, among them offensive tackle Jaxson Kirkland, defensive tackle Taki Taimani and inside linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio, all left home with injuries.
Even Morris exited the field after the first series bleeding profusely after getting hit in the nose and needing true freshman Sam Huard to pull a series for him.
Morris got sacked three times in his first 10 plays, repeatedly overthrew his receivers, couldn't get the offense moving at all and at one point looked like his confidence was all but shot.
Scarier yet, starting safety Alex Cook didn't get up near the end of the first quarter after catching a knee to the head, was strapped onto a stretcher and carted off the field, and transported to a Tucson hospital. The game was stopped for 15 minutes as the injured defensive back was treated gingerly. Televised reports indicated he had the use of all extremities as he was being examined.
Cooks's departure was eerily similar to that of teammate MJ Tafisi, a UW reserve linebacker who had the same frightening thing happen to him in the same stadium 24 months earlier.
All of that took place before the first quarter was over.
As a team, the Huskies looked done.
On the first series of the game, Race Porter's punt was blocked by Wildcats freshman Isaiah Taylor, who came through an open lane untouched, setting up Arizona at the UW 23 and leading to Tyler Loop's 34-yard field goal.
The Huskies went 0-for-6 on their offensive possessions in the opening half.
On defense, they squandered outside linebacker Zion Tupuola-Fetui's first sack of the season, dropping Arizona freshman quarterback Will Plummer for a 12-yard loss in the first quarter.
They couldn't take advantage of the season debut for inside linebacker Alphonzo Tuputala, back from a spring football foot injury.
By now, with the UW in a total funk, Arizona moved 64 yards in 10 plays to score a second-quarter touchdown. Jamarye Joiner punched it in from 1 yard out for a 10-0 lead. Wideout Stanley Berryhill III set it up with a 34-yard end-around play.
The Wildcats took its next possession 92 yards for another field goal, this one by a different kicker, Lucas Havrisik, who hit it strong from 50 yards out.
Freshman fullback Stevie Rocker Jr. got his team in range with a 52-yard rumble through the punchless Husky defense. Rocker led all rushers with 87 yards on 8 carries and his team piled up 218 yards on the UW's porous run stoppers.
Arizona, feeling as energized as the Huskies were lifeless, carried a 13-0 lead into the locker room at halftime.
After the break, the UW finally made something happen on offense on its first series. Wide receiver Terrell Bynum rescued his team from the depths of that scoreless half by reaching the end zone on a 16-yard pass from Morris to pull his team within 13-7. Bynum finished with a team-high 5 catches for 143 yards. Fellow wide receiver Jalen McMillan helped move the drive along with a 29-yard catch.
Arizona immediately responded with a second field goal from Loop, this time a 35-yarder that made it a two-score game again at 16-7.
The youthful Wildcats with their new coach in Jedd Fisch still weren't ready to win on this night, even with the UW on the ropes. They gave it away.
Early in the fourth quarter, Arizona was moving and looking for a game-clincher when Plummer made a huge mistake. On a screen play, the alert Letuligasenoa intercepted his pass in a crowd at the Husky 29.
That miscue proved fatal to the home team. Everything came unraveled for the Wildcats. They became the nation's worst team again in a blink.
Four plays later, the Huskies found the end zone with 11:39 left to play on redshirt freshman Cam Davis' spinning 9-yard run, his first score in his UW career. All of a sudden, Lake's team was down just 16-14.
Forcing a punt on the next series, the UW went for the throat and rushed 82 yards up the field in just 7 plays for Odunze's deciding score.
Morris settled down to complete 13 of 21 passes for 217 yards and the two scores. The plan was to use Huard in a rotating manner with him in what presumably would be a blowout, but the freshman drew only his singular six-play series once the game turned far more complicated and precarious.
After all of this, the Huskies had survived a gruesome night in the desert.
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