College Football – "The Immaculate Footception" Will Live Forever in Washington Husky Lore – Part 2
(Editor’s observe: This is Part 2 of a story about the life of a college football team’s season in only two games-one was an abject heartache, and the other an extreme joy. The team was the University of Washington this season, and the events that unfolded brought to mind Charles Dickens’ novel “A Tale of Two Cities”. Here is what really happened, and when.)
As disheartening as Washington’s loss was to Notre Dame, what was about to happen was more than the Huskies could ever have expected or imagined. It will live forever in the annuals of Washington Husky football lore.
With their season record now at 2-3, Washington’s Huskies would return to their home turf and await the arrival of the Arizona Wildcat’s glossy 3-1 record with victories over Central Michigan and Northern Arizona at home and over Oregon State on-the-road. Their only loss was by 10 points to the 12th-rated Iowa Hawkeyes in another away game.
Arizona coach Mike Stoops (brother of coach Bob Stoops of the Oklahoma Sooners) had compiled an 8-5 mark last year capped by a victory over Brigham Young in the Las Vegas Bowl. The Wildcats were finally getting some national notice, and not eager to take a step backwards.
Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian had quarterbacked for Brigham Young in 1995, leading the Cougars to a 13-1 regular season mark, beating Kansas State 19-15 in the Cotton Bowl, and becoming the Western Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year. His BYU team became the first in NCAA history to win 14 games in a season. Sarkisian’s 162.0 career passing efficiency rating is 3rd all-time in the NCAA.
“Sark” needed to convince his players to keep playing hard and believing that Notre Dame was just a blip on the screen in their forward march to success.
At game time, the Huskies appeared willing but not always able. Arizona moved the ball at will, piling up 461 yards of offense and successfully throwing enough “bubble” passes to start a bubblegum manufacturing company.
Wildcat quarterback Nick Foles made a career out of taking the ball under center, stepping back and sending rockets to the wideouts at the line of scrimmage. The Arizona receivers responded by churning for short yardage before the defenders could come up and tackle, stopping a long gain.
Arizona had exposed a Husky weakness and was exploiting it like a trader with an insider stock tip. Washington simply does not have the talent right now to play receivers one-on-one, so they must play off the line of scrimmage to avoid getting beat thorough and giving up a long-yardage play.
Foles would go 39-of-53 for 384 yards and a touchdown before the night was over, leaving Arizona with a grand total of only 77yards rushing on 30 carries.
The Wildcats had built a 33-21 rule with less than 3 minutes to play and it looked like Washington was floating dead in the water. But, then again, this was not last year’s 0-12 Husky team.
Washington’s offensive 11 was nevertheless playing hard and believing when a scrambling Jake Locker found tight end Kavario Middleton in the corner of the end zone for a 25-yard TD strike to bring the Huskies to within 5 at 33-28 with 2:55 left.
Sark then did what many coaches would not do, he elected to kick off to the Wildcats instead of go for an onside kick and possible immediate possession of the ball. That is called belief in your defensive coordinator-Nick “The Wild Man” Holt-and his bend but don’t break diehards.
All night the Huskies had been beaten again and again and again on the quick wideout bubble pass. You could hardly blame the Arizona coaching staff for not calling the play again; traditional wisdom says you call a play that is working until the defense can stop you.
So once again Nick Foles rifled a pass to wideout Delashaun Dean but Foles’ pass was low and behind the receiver, who fell to the turf trying to catch the pigskin. Linebacker Mason Foster had overrun the play on the defensive side on purpose, and words are a very poor replace what happened next.
Foster’s aggressiveness had pushed Foles to the limit and his pass bounced off of the receiver’s foot and up into the air where Foster juggled it momentarily, and then turned around and ran untouched for a 37-yard interception and return touchdown, putting the Huskies up 34-33 with 2:37 left to play.
The Washington faithful, who had come to life when the Huskies scored earlier in the game, now went berserk with frenzied excitement. And the players? Well, let’s just say the reaction was extreme joy. And the coaches? Perhaps frenzied, joyful and over the top unstoppable in their belief that the Huskies can and will win by playing hard, playing right and having fun.
There were no priests noticeable at that moment, and the mythical “touchdown Jesus” picture visible from Notre Dame Stadium had not been transported from Notre Dame to Husky Stadium for the game, but before our very eyes, a miracle of the football gods had happened. They had had enough of Arizona’s bubble passes and it was time for redemption.
Call it luck, call it the bounce of the ball, or call it what I do-“The Immaculate Footception”, a little clumsy in expression but quite accurate. in any case you call it, it will forever keep in Washington football history in the years to come. Should the Huskies go on to qualify and win a bowl game this year, the happy happening and Mason Foster will be cemented in legend.
Sark went for the 2-point conversion and Jake Locker hooked up with sophomore wide receiver (and unexpected star) Jermaine Kearse to make it happen, putting Washington up 36-33.
Mason Foster had an awesome night with 11 tackles, a pair of meaningful stops on Arizona’s last excursion, and an interception and moment of glory that will take at the minimum a lifetime to forget and take a million years to duplicate exactly.
Washington’s miracle play brought back great memories of “The Immaculate Reception” during a 1972 playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders. Late in the game a Pittsburgh receiver was hit hard as he tried to make a catch, the ball was deflected and just before it hit the ground, it was caught by Franco Harris, who picked it out of the air and then ran it in for the touchdown that won the game for the Steelers.
Pittsburgh had struggled for 4 decades to win a playoff game, and The Immaculate Reception-called by NFL films as the greatest play of all time-led to the Steelers ultimately winning 4 Super Bowls before the end of the decade.
The frosting on the cake came when Arizona had one last chance to pull out the victory that should have been theirs.
The Husky defensive line, which had not done a whole lot all night, came to life as its best pass rusher, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, got in touch with his Samoan roots and sacked Nick Foles on a basic play. On the next play, true freshman cornerback (and future NFL player) Desmond Trufant intercepted a Foles pass with 36 seconds left to seal the Dawgs’ improbable 36-33 win.
Trust me when I say that University of Washington football and Husky madness is on the rise. Look for a lot of lost Dawgs to make their way back to Husky Stadium in the next few home games.
Husky fans in the great Pacific Northwest are not drinking the Kool-Aid as the expression goes, they are enjoying the sweet taste of success. already the football gods are so pleased that they have decided to order cable hook-up with high-def.
(Editor’s observe: This is Part 2 of a 2-Part Series.)
Copyright © 2009 Ed Bagley