SEATTLE – For one day, track was back at Husky Stadium.
In a sprint from start to finish Saturday afternoon, Washington had just enough kick to outlast Eastern Washington 59-52, leaving the fans as breathless as the football players.
“I hope the fans liked the game,” Huskies coach Chris Petersen joked after the teams combined for 1,109 yards of offense in a game that kept 62,861 fans in their seats despite a gorgeous afternoon that begged them to leave.
Finally, the Huskies sealed the deal with a game-clinching first down with just over a minute to play, giving everyone something to take home for later.
Washington found a quarterback, some teachable moments in its young secondary and the chance to show the home crowd that last week’s one-point win at Hawaii was just that – a win.
Eastern found it could overcome an early three-touchdown deficit against the best talent it will face all year; it also burnished its reputation for high-flying offense.
On some days, that’s enough. Not on Saturday.
“We’re not in this thing for moral victories,” said safety Tevin McDonald, who started for two years at UCLA before transferring to Eastern.
Not even at Husky Stadium, where a $280 million renovation was completed last year, partly to improve the sight lines. Gone is the track, giving the fans even better appreciation of Saturday’s fast-paced action.
If you liken this game to a 1-mile run, the Huskies pulled away at the start, leading 21-0 on two long touchdown drives and one short one – courtsey of a fumbled kickoff return after the first UW score.
But Eastern regrouped. Over the next eight minutes, quarterback Vernon Adams threw three TD passes and pulled the Eagles to within 24-21 early in the second quarter.
“I told the guys to hold their heads up high,” said Eastern coach Beau Baldwin, whose team fell to 2-1. “You’re on the road in a Pac-12 stadium and things don’t go well early, and you go down 21-0. To me, that’s the thing I was most proud of.”
There was more. As the UW offense ran amok all day – eight Huskies combined for 356 yards on the ground – the Eagles responded. Trailing 37-31 at halftime, they moved 75 yards in seven plays, taking their first lead of the game on Adams’ fourth TD pass, and his third to Cooper Kupp.
“We just continued to battle, and that says a lot about our team,” said Kupp, who finished with eight catches for 145 yards – and, after the disappointment subsided, a smile on his face.
“It’s fun to go up against these guys,” Kupp said. “They’re all great athletes to be playing at this level.”
Great athletes, for sure, but unaccustomed to facing a mobile quarterback of Adams’ caliber; it didn’t help that the freshmen comprised three-fourths of the UW secondary.
“They had great plays and just kept getting open. You can’t take that away from them,” Huskies linebacker Shaq Thompson said.
In the end, the Huskies took this one away with their offense. Eastern still led 45-44 at the end of the third quarter, but quarterback Cyler Miles put the Huskies on top for good with a 5-yard run on the first play of the fourth.
Trailing by seven, the Eagles were driving for a possible go-ahead score when Thompson and fellow linebacker John Timu forced a fumble by freshman wide receiver Terence Grady at the EWU 16. Five minutes later, Miles put the Huskies up 59-45.
Unbowed, the Eagles cut the deficit in half with Adams’ seventh TD pass, an 11-yarder to tight end Zach Wimberly. An onside kick – the Eagles’ third of the game – was barely recovered by the Huskies, who ran out the clock to seal the track meet.
Eastern has a bye next week, followed by a game Sept. 20 at Montana State. “The bye week comes at a good time, but we’ll have our hands full going forward,” Baldwin said. Washington hosts Illinois on Saturday. … Washington’s 59 points tied for the sixth most in school history (since 1945). … The Huskies’ seven rushing TDs tied for second in UW history.
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