Legend of Sixkiller: Even in Defeat, Sonny Made Things Interesting
Sonny Sixkiller's Huskies weren't unbeatable. They weren't always mistake-free. But they were never, ever boring.
Their 1970 game against California, Washington's fourth consecutive at home to begin the season, accentuated every one of these fine points.
The Huskies trailed 21-0 and 31-14. They had two chances to win in the final six minutes inside the Bears' 30-yard line, once getting as close as the 10.
Final score: Cal 31, Washington 28.
Sixkiller was incredibly streaky. He served up four interceptions. He was good on 11 of 12 passes in the second half.
He couldn't explain his performance in the locker room afterward. It wasn't until much later that the improvisational quarterback suspected he had suffered a concussion against the Bears that day.
"I literally looked to the sideline and the whole thing was like a collage," Sixkiller said. "The play came in and I ran it and we scored. I don't remember any of it. I don't remember anything about that drive. I think back and it was how did I do that?"
The sophomore really didn't want to know what took place in the opening half at Husky Stadium. Cal scored early and often on a damp day. A crowd of 54,000 grew impatient as the deficit ballooned to three touchdowns by the second quarter.
The Huskies began their comeback before halftime in spectacular fashion. Sixkiller threw a pass intended for wide receiver Jim Krieg, the ball was deflected into the air and UW fullback Bo Cornell snatched it and raced 48 yards for his team's first touchdown.
Down 24-7 with just 29 seconds left in the opening half, Krieg gathered in a kickoff near his goal line, burst up the middle, veered to the right and he was gone. He scored from 97 yards out, crossing the goal line with the ball held high in his right hand.
In the third quarter, the Huskies gave up another touchdown, but Sixkiller threw a 13-yard scoring pass to Cornell -- without a defensive hand on it this time. He followed that up with a 6-yard TD toss to tight end John Brady with 7:31 left to play, bringing his team within three.
So quiet early on, Husky Stadium fans were on the edge of their seats. They were so exited they could barely stand it.
Things came to a thundering crescendo in Montlake when UW defensive end Jon Kadletz, who a few weeks later would quit the team over playing time, batted a Cal pass high into the air, gathered it in and lumbered 3 yards to the Bears 19.
The crowd exploded. The stadium shook. The Husky offense couldn't run onto the field fast enough.
Sixkiller tossed a 2-yard pass to Cornell. He threw a 7-yarder to wide receiver Ralph Bayard.
It was third-and-one on the Bears 10.
Nerves topped the Huskies, not Cal.
As Sixkiller barked out the signals, overanxious Huskies senior offensive tackle Dan Cunningham began leaning too far forward, couldn't keep from moving and got flagged for an offside penalty.
It was terrible luck. The ball moved back to the 15. The clock showed 5:27 remaining.
With a third-and-six situation, Sixkiller threw incomplete for Krieg.
On fourth down, the fearless Husky quarterback scrambled, barely got the ball off over two rushers and sent it to the end zone for Ace Bulger, his other tight end.
Everyone watched in horror as Bulger juggled the ball before it dropped to the ground.
Sixkiller got his team back to the Cal 28 in the closing minutes but ran out of downs again.
On both late possessions, the Huskies refused to go for a tying field goal, so confident they could pull this one out.
"I was convinced we were going to win, right down to the last play," Huskies coach Jim Owens said. "It was a great comeback."
Sixkiller completed 20 of 43 passes for 257 yards and those three scores.
He was now 2-2 as the UW starting quarterback, 4-for-4 in terms of providing excitement.
He couldn't remember everything about the Cal game, but he knew enough that it hurt and he was far from satisfied.
"A fluke loss like this doesn't mean anything," Sixkiller said almost defiantly. "You could tell we were a good team."