On Saturday night, Oct. 1, the Washington Huskies were sadly flying home with a 1-3 record. Minnesota had just beaten them on a last-minute field goal, and it appeared that once again their season would be ruinous. Instead, Washington won six of its last seven regular season games, outscored its opponents 238-103 and earned its first trip to the Rose Bowl in 14 years. The astounding climax of this remarkable comeback came last Monday in the Rose Bowl, where the Huskies upended heavily favored Michigan 27-20. It was the Pacific Eight's eighth win over the Big Ten in the last nine Rose Bowls. And it was Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler's fifth bowl loss in five tries.
Michigan, which trailed 17-0 at halftime, might have been able to make it all the way back in the second half except for Washington's determined defense, which complemented its wide-open offense. On the third play of the second half Wolverine Defensive Back Michael Jolly intercepted a Warren Moon pass on the Washington 36 and took it back to the 11. It seemed Michigan would bull it in and be back in contention.
But with fourth and two on the three, Michigan's Roosevelt Smith gained zero against the left side of the Washington line. The Huskies took over and moved 97 yards in 12 plays, mainly on Moon's passing and Joe Steele's running. Moon, who had been derided by Husky fans for three years, capped the drive by throwing to his favorite target, world-class hurdler Spider Gaines, for a 28-yard touchdown. The extra point made it 24-0, and the Huskies seemed out of reach.
Those bash-through-the-line teams from Michigan and Ohio State are not supposed to be able to come from behind—Michigan failed miserably at it in the Rose Bowl only last year—but this time junior Quarterback Rick Leach almost pulled it off.
January 9, 1978
Leach is not the sort of passer the pros drool over, but late in the third quarter he connected with Curt Stephenson on a 76-yard touchdown pass, a Rose Bowl record, to narrow the gap to 24-7. After a Steve Robbins field goal made it 27-7, Leach's passes helped Michigan drive to a second score, Russell Davis ending the 78-yard march by diving over from the two. With most of the fourth quarter to go, it was 24-14. A 32-yard touchdown pass from Leach to Stanley Edwards narrowed the margin to seven, but the extra-point try was blocked.
Washington couldn't move the ball, and Michigan had a couple of gasps left. But Leach had no more touchdowns left in his strong left arm. Husky Linebacker Michael Jackson intercepted a Leach pass on the Washington eight with 1:21 remaining, and Defensive Back Nesby Glasgow stole another at the Washington seven with 32 seconds to go.
Before the game Moon had said, "This pressure is nothing to me after what I've been through the last three years. I can say that I only felt really comfortable playing the last four home games of this season. I guess that's why I played some of my best games on the road." At Pasadena he passed for 188 yards and a touchdown and ran for two more scores.
"We didn't play a perfect game, but we played as well as I think we can," said third-year Washington Coach Don James. "We had to throw to beat Michigan. I knew we would have to take chances to win. I really thought before the game that Michigan was a better team than we were, but I have a lot more respect for my team right now."