Press Conference (YouTube)
STANFORD, Calif. – Ty Montgomery wrapped two big kickoff returns around a long touchdown reception, but No. 5 Stanford required a late defensive stop to hold off No. 15 Washington, 31-28, in a Pac-12 North Division showdown between undefeated teams Saturday night at Stanford Stadium.
Montgomery gained 204 yards on kickoff returns and had 290 all-purpose to help the Cardinal build a lead it would never relinquish. But Stanford was in danger in the final minutes when the Huskies drew within three and had the ball.
This time, the Stanford defense held. However, it took a replay reversal after a Washington catch was ruled complete for a first down, to ensure the victory. On fourth-and-10, Keith Price’s low sideline pass was gathered by a falling Kevin Smith at the Stanford 33-yard line with 1:16 left.
After an extended delay for a replay review, the call was reversed, as referee Land Clark announced that the ball had hit the ground. Stanford took possession and the Washington could not stop the clock.
“Ty was the difference in the ballgame,” said David Shaw, Stanford’s Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. “He’s a special player, and he’s only going to get better. He’s just scratching the surface.”
Stanford (5-0 overall) emerged at 3-0 in the Pac-12, with Washington (4-1) dropping to 1-1 in conference play.
“We talked about being finishers,” Shaw said. “We talk about training for games like this, because that’s our conference. This is the way it’s going to be from here on out.”
Indeed, after playing at Utah next week, Stanford plays host to UCLA in a rematch of last year’s Pac-12 championship game, and Oregon, USC, and Notre Dame loom ahead.
On two fourth-quarter possessions, Stanford had an opportunity to wind down the clock, but failed to produce a first down. The first came after an interception by A.J. Tarpley stifled what appeared to be a sure Washington scoring opportunity. Price’s pass on first-and-goal at the Stanford 7 was batted into the air by 6-foot-6 Trent Murphy and corralled by Tarpley inside the 5.
Stanford, however, was quickly forced to punt and Washington drove 79 yards in 90 seconds to draw within 31-28 on a one-yard pass from Price to Jaydon Mickens with 2:38 left.
Again, Stanford failed to move the ball, punted, and the Huskies took over at its own 33 with 1:51 left. After an initial 18-yard pass to Kasen Williams, Price threw three incompletions – two after hurries by Murphy and Ben Gardner – before the decisive pass and replay reversal.
Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov admitted being “a little nervous,” as he waited for the call. But added, “We were ready to strap up and hold the line.”
Four times Stanford built 10-point leads, and each time Washington answered to cut the deficit to three. It was a game filled with offensive fireworks – mostly by Washington -- and defensive stands by both teams. But it all began with Montgomery.
The Cardinal junior scored two big-play touchdowns to lift Stanford to a 17-7 halftime lead. Each was the type of play to bring the Cardinal fans to their feet. He returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a score and closed the half with a 39-yard scoring reception.
His 72-yard kickoff return set up Stanford’s final touchdown, an 11-yarder by Gaffney with 44 seconds left in the third quarter that proved to be the deciding score.
Gaffney finished with 74 yards rushing on 19 carries, and Montgomery added 56 yards on three catches and 30 yards on two carries to his return totals.
For Washington, Bishop Sankey ran for 136 yards on 27 carries and scored two touchdowns. The Huskies outgained Stanford, 489-284, with Price completing 33 of 48 passes for 350 yards and two touchdowns.
However, he was sacked five times and Stanford’s defense ended up winning the day.
On the opening kickoff, Montgomery found an alley up the right seam. Montgomery’s speed carried him through, but it was two blocks – by Jackson Cummings and, finally, Joe Hemschoot that sprung him for the 99-yard score.
It marked Stanford’s first kickoff return for a touchdown since then-freshman Montgomery did it on the final play against Washington State in 2011, and it was the first opening-kickoff touchdown by the Cardinal since Chris Owusu in 2009, also against WSU.
Montgomery made his presence felt on Stanford’s first offensive play, carrying 26 yards on an end-around.
Throughout the first quarter, Stanford drew outstanding field position – including after a 39-yard punt return by Barry Sanders -- but never ventured into the red zone until reaching the Huskies’ 16 at the end of the first quarter. Stanford, however, settled for a 33-yard field goal by Jordan Williamson on that possession for a 10-0 lead.
Stanford’s struggles stemmed from its inability to convert on third down. The Cardinal was 4 for 14 in that department in the game. Also, other than the TD pass to Montgomery, quarterback Kevin Hogan and the Cardinal passing game struggled. Hogan was 12 of 20 for 105 yards, and only 30 of those came after halftime.
“There were not a lot of passing lanes,” Shaw said. “They did a good job of squeezing the receivers, getting underneath them. The corners and safeties played deep, so it was hard to get the deep shot. This is a defense that makes you try to go the long way without giving up big plays.”
Washington drew within 10-7 with 1:03 left in the half. Sankey carried seven yards up the middle to cap an 88-yard drive for the Huskies.
But Stanford answered with Montgomery’s second score, on a streak down the right sideline. Kevin Hogan’s high pass was caught at the five against tight coverage. The ball was juggled for a split second and corralled by the fleet receiver as he reached the end zone.
Washington drove quickly at the outset of the second half, driving 75 yards in four plays. Price found Smith on a deep crossing route for a 29-yard scoring play, drawing the Huskies within 17-14.
Stanford once again held the Huskies at arm’s length. A 10-play drive, seven of them runs (six by Gaffney), concluded with a 4-yard Hogan run on an option keeper. The early third-quarter possession was the first series in which the Cardinal had moved the ball consistently on the ground, but Stanford would finish with a solid 179 rushing yards.
Again, Washington answered back. Twice Stanford appeared to stop the Huskies. First, punter Travis Coons carried on a fake, picking up 17 yards on a fourth-and-11 from Washington’s 35. Next, on a third-down incompletion, James Vaughters was penalized for hitting Price late, awarding the Huskies a first down at the Stanford 15. On the next play, Sankey carried for the score, to cut the deficit to 24-21.
But Stanford, thanks to Montgomery, again kept the Huskies at bay. Following teammate Cummings on the return of the ensuing kickoff, Montgomery accelerated through the opening on the way to a 72-yard return to the Washington 19.
Gaffney did the rest, carrying on all three plays, and scoring on third-and-2. Stanford again led by 10, at 31-21. Of course, there was far more excitement to come.
“It’s not a beauty contest,” Shaw said. “It’s a football game. So, no matter how imperfect their whole game is, we get to the fourth quarter, we’ve got to finish. And our guys finished well today.”
“We were in a fight,” he said. “We showed that we can stand in there and we can finish a game and win a fight if we have to.”