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November 19, 2010As the game wore on, the Washington Huskies grew stronger.
With no margin for error left in their hopes to remain bowl eligible, the Huskies showed a national television audience not to count them out just yet.
With quarterback Jake Locker limited with a broken rib, the Huskies unleashed a powerful running game and used a stifling, big-play defense to defeat the Bruins, 24-7, Thursday night at Husky Stadium.
Washington (4-6) rushed for 253 yards while the Huskies' defense shut out UCLA in the second half and came up with two key interceptions in the final seven minutes that led to two touchdowns and sent the crowd of 62,347 into a frenzy.
The biggest roar came with 6:22 remaining when Quenton Richardson stepped in front of a Darius Bell pass and returned the ball 28 yards for a touchdown at a time when the Huskies were clinging to a 10-7 lead.
"We just played with great swagger, and nobody was going to score on us in the second half, nobody," said safety Nathan Fellner, whose acrobatic interception set up the Huskies' final touchdown. "We just shut them down and they couldn't do anything about it."
This was a gut check game for the Huskies, who came in reeling with three straight losses, and their decorated quarterback Locker, who was determined to play with his injury in his final game at Husky Stadium.
Coach Steve Sarkisian knew Locker couldn't play to his full abilities but also knew how much it meant for him to play on a night when the team's 17 seniors were honored during a "blackout" themed evening in which the Huskies wore black uniforms except for their gold helmets.
So Sarkisian adjusted the game plan to focus more on the run instead of keeping Locker too long in the pocket to risk further injury.
"I didn't want to expose him," Sarkisian said.
On this night, Washington's running game was up to the task.
Sophomore Chris Polk rushed for a career-best 138 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries and freshman Jesse Callier added 107 yards rushing on 10 carries.
The ground game was working so well that Locker attempted only four passes in the second half.
He finished with only 68 yards passing on 10 of 21 accuracy with one interception. He also ran for a 3-yard touchdown in the second quarter to send Washington into halftime tied with UCLA at 7.
"Coming into halftime, I thought to myself, 'Let's fun the football.' They're obviously playing Jake. We couldn't get him on the edge. They were trying to corrall him. Let's run the ball and assess where we're going and if we need him to really throw it, we'll get back to that. But for right now, we're going to lean on No. 1 and see what happens."
Polk loved the idea. He carried the ball 16 times in the second half. His 2-yard touchdown run with 4:24 remaining sealed the Huskies' victory and put the Bruins (4-6) in a must-win situation in their final two games to make the postseason.
UCLA, already missing its No. 1 quarterback Kevin Prince with a season-ending knee injury, used three different quarterbacks against the Huskies.
Starter Richard Brehaut left the game with a concussion in the third quarter with the Huskies leading 10-7. Clayton Tunney and Darius Bell came on in relief and managed just one completion and two interceptions between them.
"Congratulations to Washington," said UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, a former Huskies coach who got booed when he was shown on the stadium's big screen. "They played a whale of a second half and deserved to win tonight. We, unfortunately, ran out of gas and sputtered a little bit when we lost Richard to a concussion."
Brehaut was the recipient of helmet-to-helmet contact from Huskies safety Nate Williams while sliding on a run in the third quarter and was relieved shortly after that. The contract drew a 15-yard penalty.
Brehaut had led UCLA on a first quarter drive that put the Bruins in front, 7-0, as the Pistol offense was in high gear.
Johnathan Franklin followed the block of a pulling guard and sprang free for a 31-yard touchdown run to put Washington in an early hole.
Locker didn't appear to be himself from the start as his first pass over the middle went right into the hands of strong safety Tony Dye at the Washington 20 but he dropped the ball.
Moments later, cornerback Aaron Hester picked off a Locker pass, raising some early concern about his passing ability.
But this time, it was the Huskies' ground game that chewed up yardage and a defense that came up with big plays, including the first defensive touchdown of the season.
Washington intercepted three passes in all, with linebacker Cort Dennison getting one deep in coverage.
Playing in his final home game, linebacker Mason Foster finished with 14 tackles and had 11 at halftime.
Many seniors received cheers as they came off the field Thursday night and headed into the tunnel, including Locker, who was followed by a crowd of media.
"It's been a great experience for me," Locker said. "I've enjoyed every minute of it and made a lot of really, really good memories in that stadium and ones that I'll hold on to the rest of my life."
Washington will need to win its final two road games to become eligible for a bowl game. The Huskies' next challenge is California before tackling Washington State in the Apple Cup.
"The next game is all we can think about," senior offensive lineman Gregory Christine said. "It's playoff football time. If we can keep winning we get to play another game. So we are just focused on playing Cal next week."