Updated Saturday, November 3, 2012 at 07:40 PM
BERKELEY, Calif. — They arrived looking good, wearing shirts and ties for the first time under coach Steve Sarkisian as part of his "business trip" theme for the week.
And they left feeling even better, snapping a six-game road losing streak with a 21-13 victory over California at Memorial Stadium on Friday night.
In between, well, that often times left the Washington Huskies a little queasy.
"Oh man, it was stressful," quarterback Keith Price said of a game that featured eight combined turnovers — four lost by each team — 18 penalties (12 by Washington) and a myriad of other mistakes by both sides.
"It was ugly," said UW coach Steve Sarkisian, invoking the sports cliché that often is overused but fit this game perfectly. "At the end of the day, you find a way to win. I think that's a sign of a good football team that you can find a way to win a football game that is that ugly, that the ball is just going back and forth from one play to the next."
Indeed, there were three fumbles in one six-play stretch of the fourth quarter in which each team at times seemed on the verge of taking control.
But it was UW that got the last turnover, an interception by freshman safety Shaq Thompson, a Sacramento native whose brother played at Cal and for a long time Shaq was thought likely to become a Bear himself. His interception finally sealed the deal, and he returned the Zach Maynard pass to the UW 28 with 6:13 left.
Bishop Sankey then put the capper on a career night (finishing with 189 yards on 29 carries) with four consecutive runs, the last from a yard out, to give the Huskies their final touchdown for a 21-13 score with 4:11 left.
Cal had one last gasp, a drive that got to the 25. But it ended there and the Huskies could finally leave an opponent's field happily for the first time since a victory at Utah on Oct. 1, 2011.
"The plane ride is going to be much easier," Price said. "It's not going to be complete silence."
The victory made UW 5-4 on the season and was the Huskies' second consecutive triumph. They are one victory away from getting the six necessary for a bowl game with three contests remaining. Cal fell to 3-7 and out of a chance at a bowl with a defeat that will only increase speculation about the future of coach Jeff Tedford.
The game began as if the Huskies might make it easy, as they gained 267 yards in the first half, Sankey rushing for 124. But after a solid touchdown drive on its first possession, the Huskies spent the rest of the half mired in frustration, moving the ball but unable to make the key play to score, dropping one potential touchdown pass and failing to gain a yard on two fourth-and-one plays inside Bear territory. Cal also moved it well at times, but lost two fumbles inside the UW 21 on its first two possessions. Still, Cal tied the game at 7 at halftime thanks to a 14-yard run on a reverse by Chris Harper.
The Bears then took a 13-7 lead on two short field goals in the third quarter, putting some life into a crowd of 42,226 that often seemed hoping it would just get over with. On each drive, though, UW stiffened when Cal got to or inside the Husky 6.
"Our red-zone defense was tremendous tonight," Sarkisian said. "It was obviously the bend-but-don't-break mentality there for a while."
After the second Cal field goal, UW turned to one of its most reliable weapons, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who caught passes from Price of 43 and 29 — the latter for a touchdown — to quickly put UW on top 14-13 with 41 seconds left in the third quarter.
Seferian-Jenkins finished with eight catches for a career-high 152 yards and now has 48 catches for the season to tie Jerramy Stevens in 2000 for the most receptions by a Husky tight end.
Then the game got crazy, four consecutive drives ending in turnovers in one stretch of the fourth quarter.
"It was very nail-biting," said UW safety Sean Parker. "We could come off (the field) and then we would have to get back up. But you have to be ready for everything."
Thompson's interception and Sankey's runs finally gave UW some breathing room, and then came the sigh of relief after Cal's last drive — which was finished by backup quarterback Allan Bridgford after Maynard left with an injury.
And then came the shirts and ties back on for the happy trip home. Sarkisian had said early in the week he would continue to try anything to shake UW out of its road lethargy — the Huskies are now 5-15 on the road in his four years, two victories coming in Berkeley.
Sarkisian told the players early in the week of the new wardrobe, and Price said, "I think that was the whole message, that we weren't here for vacation."
Price said if it were up to him, he'd go back to wearing less formal clothes. But whatever it takes.
"It's uncomfortable," he joked. "But it was worth it."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com
MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ / AP
On one play where Washington did a great job holding on to the ball, Austin Seferian-Jenkins (88) was able to come down with this catch for a 29-yard touchdown reception against California's Steve Williams.
DOUG DURAN / MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS
Despite one fumble and one interception, Keith Price had a solid game at quarterback for the Huskies, completing 16 of 29 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown.