SEATTLE — Last year, they called it “God’s play” — running back Chris Polk powering it past the goal line on fourth-and-1 as time expired to give Washington a three-point win over California.
This year, the appropriate term might be “Devil’s Wall,” because even though Cal had first-and-goal from the 2-yard line with less than a minute to go — it was hell for the Bears to find the end zone.
The Huskies stuffed Cal four consecutive times on its final drive Saturday to preserve a 31-23 victory.
An incompletion and a pair of failed runs left Bears quarterback Zach Maynard with one final chance to tie the score, but when his ball sailed past receiver Keenan Allen on fourth down, the roar within Husky Stadium could be heard from the Space Needle.
Washington (3-1, 1-0 in the Pac-12) is now undefeated in its three games against Cal since Steve Sarkisian took over the program. And while the game film will reveal myriad blunders among Husky players, their coach was quick to point out what could not be recorded.
“I continue to be thoroughly impressed with our football team’s resiliency,” Sarkisian said. “This group of guys, they have huge hearts, are tough-minded, their ability to deal with adversity and focus at the task at hand is pretty amazing to me.
“Were we perfect? No. But what a great win for our guys.”
Inspiring as Washington’s goal-line stand may have been, it stood in total contrast to its opening defensive possession.
Five minutes into the first quarter, Maynard connected with Keenan on a 90-yard TD toss — the longest in Cal’s history — to put the Bears up 7-0.
The scoring pass would foreshadow a litany of third-down conversions that haunted the Huskies throughout the first two quarters. But while Washington’s defense required a halftime adjustment, its offense needed no such tinkering.
Huskies quarterback Keith Price entered the game tied for the national lead with 11 touchdown passes and did not mitigate his production against Cal.
With 8:39 left in the first quarter, the sophomore hooked up with tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins for a 20-yard touchdown pass to tie the score and cap a three-play, 66-yard drive. Later in the first, Polk scored on a 2-yard run to make it 14-7 Washington.
Cal kicker Giorgio Tavecchio punched in a 29-yard field goal to bring the Bears to within four early in the second.
But Price answered with another 20-yard scoring toss to Seferian-Jenkins to give his team a 21-10 lead.
“Great play calling,” Sefarian-Jenkins said.
But perhaps not the greatest of the afternoon.
Cal (3-1, 0-1) ended the first half with another Tavecchio field goal and a 1-yard TD run from running back C.J. Anderson, which brought the Bears to within one heading into the locker room.
The teams exchanged field goals in the third quarter, and with 12 minutes remaining in the fourth came Washington’s offensive play of the game.
Clinging to a 24-23 lead on third-and-12, Price hurled a 70-yard touchdown pass to a surging Polk that put the Huskies up by eight. Polk, who had been relatively quiet, had been waiting for that moment all day.
“I was like ‘please call that play’ and he finally called it,” Polk said. “I looked at Keith and told him it’s a touchdown. As soon as he threw it, I saw him smiling.”
Price finished with 292 yards and three touchdowns on 19 of 25 passing. Polk netted 60 yards rushing on 20 carries and added 85 yards receiving.
Maynard, who came into the game among the top 10 nationally with nine touchdown passes, finished with 349 yards and one TD on 23 of 43 passing. He did, however, come up short in the game’s most crucial moment, and while Washington fans rejoiced, Polk could have done without the suspense.
“I don’t like games that close,” Polk said. “I wish we would have put it away sooner. I don’t think my heart is healthy enough for all this stress.”