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September 4, 2011Bo Levi Mitchell saw a chance go for it all and didn't hesitate.
It's impossible to tell how many of the 58,000 folks inside Husky Stadium actually believed Eastern Washington University would beat the Washington Huskies on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Seattle. But Mitchell was clearly in the minority, believing whole-heartedly that the return trip to Cheney would be a joyous occasion.
Instead of thinking field goal, Mitchell thought touchdown. He'd already riddled the Washington secondary for a career-best 473 yards. Trailing 30-27 with a half minute remaining and the Eagles threatening from the Huskies' 25, Mitchell lobbed a pass to his 6-foot-5 receiver, Brandon Kaufman in the end zone.
Cornerback Desmond Trufant answered the dare with a leaping interception with 29 seconds remaining, spoiling the Eagles' upset bid and sending the Huskies on their way to a precarious 1-0 start to begin the 2011 season.
"We beat a pretty good football team," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. "We knew that coming in and they were extremely scary."
Eastern Washington came in as the defending FCS national champions, representing a departure from past Huskies' non-conference heavyweights. In fact, it was the first time Washington had scheduled a lower-division team, part of a shift in thinking that came about from an agreement formed three years ago by Sarkisian and athletic director Scott Woodward.
The thinking was that Washington, winless in 2008 in Tyrone Willingham's final season, needed to be a little smarter in its scheduling as it tried to rebuild the program to past prominence.
Trouble is, that thinking just about backfired. Imagine the backlash had Washington lost this one. Imagine the potential effects on recruiting.
Instead, Washington is 1-0 for the first time since 2007.
"They should feel lucky," Kaufman said. "They should feel like a lucky group. We're a good football team and we should be respected. They didn't respect us at all."
Kaufman said he could sense an "arrogance" by the Huskies from the start.
"They're an arrogant team, arrogant players," Kaufman said. "We just kept doing damage. We could have won that game."
How did Kaufman get that vibe?
"Just the way they were on the field in pregame," Kaufman said, "and the way they just don't change throughout the whole game, letting us go all over the field with them - check the total yards - and they don't change anything. It's just a heart-breaker."
Eastern Washington put up 504 yards of total offense to Washington's 250. The Eagles had 30 first downs to the Huskies' 14.
And although Eastern Washington committed four turnovers, with two leading to short drives and 10 points for the Huskies, eventually the game came down to one play.
Eastern Washington had been pinned back to its 5-yard line with 1:17 go to after a booming 55-yard punt by Kiel Rasp. But Mitchell connected on passes of 15 yards to Mario Brown, 32 yards to Nicholas Edwards and 23 yards to Ashton Clark, moving Eastern Washington to Washington's 25.
After an incompletion, Mitchell gambled as he played a game of jump ball with Kaufman going up against a cornerback 4 inches shorter. Kaufman already had 10 catches for 140 yards in the game.
But the gamble failed.
"When you've got a receiver and athlete like Brandon Kaufman you have to take that throw," Mitchell said. "Obviously, Trufant's a great player, too. When you've got a player like that with 15 touchdowns last year and probably two-thirds of them came in situations like that - high jump balls - you're going to to give it to him. Why settle for a field goal? I wanted to go for the win."
Mitchell didn't sense being disrespected by the Huskies.
"They respected us as athletes and everything," Mitchell said. "I came out and tried to rile them up a little bit. I wanted to come out confident. I wanted to come out with them knowing I expected to win the game. And I did, I will be honest with you. I expected to come out and win this game. Not with ease, but come out and win a great game. They probably respect us a lot more now."
The Eagles set the tone when Mitchell found Clark open for a 32-yard touchdown on fourth down and 12. That tied the score at 7. Eastern Washington trailed 20-13 at halftime and got behind 27-13 when Keith Price found true freshman receiver Kasen Williams in the back of the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown late in the third quarter.
But Eastern Washington continued to battle back all the way to the point that Trufant spoiled their day.
Washington came away with a victory and a solid performance by tailback Chris Polk (23 carries, 128 yards), but left with some serious concerns about its ability to stop a high-octane passing attack.
The Huskies expect more of the same against Hawaii next Saturday.
"The reality of it is when you are playing a lot of young guys you are going to make some young guy mistakes," Sarkisian said. "The challenge for us as a coaching staff is to push them and coach them to where we grow from these ball games as we move forward."
Translation: Get ready for hell week, Huskies.
"As a program, we are excited to be 1-0," Sarkisian said. "Tomorrow morning half the teams in the country are going to wake up 0-1 and we happen to be on the other side of it this time that is 1-0 but yet we understand we have a great deal of work to do to get better and improve as we move through the season. It's going to get more challenging and we will probably see another 60 pass attempts from Hawaii next week so we better figure it out."