By Shan Reddy
After an agonizing loss to Washington State at home, Stanford football (5-4, 3-3 Pac-12) headed to face Washington (7-3, 5-2) knowing that its shot at the Pac-12 title hung in the balance. The team arrived in Seattle this past Saturday coming off of their best offensive performance of the season against Wazzu, and headed to the Husky Stadium locker room at halftime without a point on the scoreboard, down 21-0.
The Cardinal lost the game two quarters later by a score of 27-23.
After a game against Washington State that appeared to mark a rebirth of Stanford’s downfield pass-heavy offense, the team went three and out on three straight drives against Washington, the last of which was capped off by an interception. Held without a single first down in the entire first quarter, Stanford didn’t hit a hundred yards of total offense until the final drive of the half, which nonetheless went scoreless.
Washington strolled down the field, scoring touchdowns after each of those first three failed Cardinal drives. The Husky offense led by quarterback Jake Browning and dynamic running back Myles Gaskin looked utterly unstoppable. Gaskin ended the game with 143 yards and a touchdown on the ground, while Browning passed for 194 yards along with a touchdown on the ground and another through the air.
Just when things couldn’t get worse for the Cardinal, the team lost its top receiver in JJ Arcega-Whiteside to what appeared to be a right foot/ankle injury a few minutes before halftime. Arcega-Whiteside had been held to a single reception in the first half by opposing Washington cornerback Byron Murphy Jr., considered by many NFL draft scouts to be the top defensive back in the Pac-12.
“When things are tough and things are dark and it’s us against the world, we are at our absolute best. I love that about our guys,” said Stanford coach David Shaw. The team came out of the locker room at halftime incensed, ready to make a stand.
On the first drive after halftime, the Cardinal defense held the Washington offense to a single yard, forcing a three and out. After giving the ball away on two out of the three previous drives, Costello marched the team down the field 61 yards before finally putting Stanford on the scoreboard with a 14 yard pass to tight end Kaden Smith.
The next Washington offensive drive saw the Stanford defense bend but not break, holding the Huskies to a field goal. Bryce Love carried the next Cardinal drive with four rushes for thirty yards and a touchdown, capitalizing on two costly penalties committed by the Washington defense.
As the fourth quarter ticked on, Stanford was slowly but surely closing the ten point gap, limiting the Husky offense to two punts and a field goal over the next three drives. With just under three and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter, Costello delivered a perfectly placed ball 33 yards into the endzone to wide receiver Trenton Irwin right over Murphy Jr.’s outstretched arms.
To the delight of the home crowd, Stanford’s backup kicker Collin Riccitelli missed the extra point, leaving the score at 27-23. With all three timeouts still in the bag, the Cardinal needed one more stop, and they’d need a touchdown on the drive after to seal the deal.
The defensive line resurged to stop Gaskin for no gain on back to back plays before bringing down Browning out of the pocket on third down. The defense got the stop. Down four points with two minutes remaining in what was essentially a Pac-12 North elimination game, the Stanford offense took the field. It was now or never.
After a solid Washington punt pinned the Stanford offense down around its own fifteen yard line, the drive moved slowly but surely, plays going for nine, then six, then eight. The game clock ticked away all the while, passing the one minute mark as the offense reached its own 38. With 59 seconds left, Costello dropped back, and delivered downfield to freshman receiver Michael Wilson for a thirteen yard gain.
The clock kept ticking, and as the Cardinal line rushed up to the 49, Washington defenders substituted. The changing personnel led Costello to delay pre-snap, costing a chunk of precious time before completing a pass to sophomore receiver Connor Weddington for 15 yards, leaving the offense with only 28 seconds by the end of the play.
After incompletions on the next two plays, the Cardinal offense was at the Washington 34 and in need of a touchdown. It was desperation time. With three seconds left, Costello heaved the ball into the endzone to Smith and Irwin, both blanketed by five defenders—Washington safety Taylor Rapp sealed the game off with an interception as time expired.
It was a humbling loss for a Stanford team that showed so much progress last week. With three turnovers and a complete inability to sustain drives in the first half, the team dug itself too deep a hole early on, despite a valiant effort to come back as the game expired.
“The problem is we create the situation that puts us there,” said Shaw after the game. “We’ve got to find a way to stop screwing it up to get ourselves to the point where we have to play our best just to come back and be in the game.”
With two back to back losses in the conference, Stanford’s chance at the Pac-12 championship is slim to none. The Cardinal return home to host Oregon State on November 10 at 6:00 pm.
Contact Shan Reddy at rsreddy ‘at’ stanford.edu