SEATTLE — Desmond Trufant intercepted Eastern Washington quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell in the end zone with 29 seconds left and Washington survived for a 30-27 win on Saturday against the defending FCS national champions.
Mitchell had driven the Eagles from their own 5 to the Washington 25 with 41 seconds left. After an incompletion, Mitchell tried to force a pass to Brandon Kaufman and Trufant won the jump ball, wrestling it away from Kaufman as the pair hit the purple turf and exuding a giant exhale from the 58,000 in attendance.
Washington quarterback Keith Price tossed a trio of touchdown passes in the first home start of his career and Chris Polk ran for 125 yards less than three weeks after having minor knee surgery.
Mitchell finished 39 of 69 for 473 yards and three touchdowns, but threw two interceptions.
It certainly wasn’t the most impressive performance by the Huskies and their pass defense was exposed by Mitchell, but Washington won its season opener for the first time since 2007.
Price threw touchdowns of 7, 9 and 6 yards. Erik Folk added field goals of 53, 47 and 40 yards for the Huskies.
It was needed thanks to Mitchell’s gutsy performance that nearly pulled what would have been the biggest upset in Eastern’s history.
With the Eagles unable to run against the larger Huskies, Mitchell simply played pitch-and-catch all over the Husky Stadium turf, which was the final home opener at the venerable waterfront stadium before extensive renovations will send Washington across town to CenturyLink Field for the 2012 season.
Mitchell set new career highs in completions, attempts and yards and if not for miscues, he could have been celebrating an upset.
Down 30-27, the Eagles took over at their own 5 with 1:17 left after forcing a Washington punt. Mitchell completed passes of 15, 32 and 23 yards to get to the Huskies’ 25 with 41 seconds remaining. After missing on first down, Mitchell forced his throw to Kaufman and Trufant came up with his second major play of the game.
Eastern’s Matt Johnson was stripped by Trufant on a punt return in the first quarter and three plays later Price hit Jonathan Amosa on a 7-yard TD pass.
In the third quarter, with Eastern trailing 20-13, a punt bounced and hit Evan Zeger in the helmet and Washington recovered the fumble. Price converted that into a 6-yard TD pass to freshman Kasen Williams and a 27-13 Huskies lead.
Eastern, who rallied from a 19-0 deficit to beat Delaware in the national championship game in January, wasn’t finished. The Eagles appeared to score on a 28-yard TD pass from Mitchell to Greg Herd, but the TD was negated by a penalty. Two plays later on third and 26, Mitchell and Herd connected on a 43-yard TD pass to cut the lead to 27-20 late in the third quarter.
Folk added his third field goal early in the fourth quarter to push the lead back to 10. Mitchell led one more drive, getting down to the Washington 5 with 3:55 left and on third-down, hit Nicholas Edwards to cut the Huskies lead to 30-27.
Edwards finished with 12 catches, while Kaufman tormented the Huskies secondary with 10 catches for 140 yards.
Price finished 17 of 25 for 102 yards.
While the Huskies were fortunate to survive the Eagles, the bigger concern might be the health of Price and wide receiver Jermaine Kearse.
Price came up grabbing at his leg after scrambling for a 10-yard run early in the second quarter. He remained in the game the rest of the half but returned with a brace on his right leg. Following the injury, Price appeared timid and was less inclined to run.
Kearse, the Huskies leading receiver from a year ago, was helped off the field following a 7-yard reception in the first quarter. Trainers were looking at his lower left leg and although he did some jogging on the sideline, never returned.