Tuiasosopo, Conniff lead Huskies to Rose Bowl victory
by Russ Paris
Special to the Weekly
It was a great New Year for the Huskies as the University of Washington football team defeated the Purdue Boilermakers 34-24 to win the Rose Bowl and finish behind Oklahoma and Miami as the best collegiate team in the land.
Marques Tuiasosopo's Rose Bowl play was exciting and dramatic punctuated with a potentially disastrous error and comeback rally that has exemplified his play all year.
Tuiasosopo (the PAC 10 Offensive Player of the Year) demonstrated his versatility as he completed 16 of 22 passes for 138 yards, scoring one touchdown and running for 75 yards on another TD.
For his athleticism, Tuiasosopo (WHS, '94) was awarded the Rose Bowl Player of the Game trophy.
"Tuiasosopo is an absolute model of what a quarterback should be," said UW head coach Rick Neuheisel. "When he injured his shoulder in the third quarter, he still came back to play hurt and led his team to win the game."
"Their quarterback [Tuiasosopo] is an exceptional player without a doubt," Purdue head coach said. "He did what he had to do to win the game."
For all of Tuiasosopo's theatrics, it was Pat Conniff's running in the third quarter that broke the spirit of Purdue's defense. The senior from Woodinville ('94) simply pounded Purdue with his tough inside running.
"The third quarter was disastrous for us," said Purdue's Joe Tiller. "Even with Tui out, their fullback Conniff was unstoppable."
During that time the Huskies ran the ball 29 times to Purdue's 14. They ran for 145 yards behind Conniff's efforts and held the ball for 12 1/2 minutes of the 15-minute quarter.
"There were times I didn't think Conniff had the ball, and he did," said Purdue defensive linebacker Akin Ayodele. "Then again, there were times I thought he had the ball and he didn't. Conniff is a strong runner who breaks tackles. That created problems for us."
Typically on the option, Tuiasosopo at quarterback takes the snap from center, rolls down the line while putting the ball in Conniff's stomach.
If there is an opening for Conniff up the middle, Tui leaves the ball with the fullback; if not, Tui pulls the ball back and runs or pitches the ball to a trailing tailback with Conniff faking possession of the ball and drawing Purdue's defense in as Tui or the tailback scramble for yardage.
These plays provided 20 second-half points as the Dawgs derailed the Boilers.
In the days before the Rose Bowl, Conniff and Tuiasosopo and the rest of the Huskies spent eleven days in the warm California sun. During their stay the daytime temperature ranged from 75 to 80 degrees. Besides practice, which was held every day except Christmas, the team was kept busy with all the entertainment the Southland had to offer.
They went to Disneyland where they were featured in the Main Street Evening Parade, saw the sights at the Playboy Mansion and appeared on Jay Leno's Tonight Show. One day the players visited young hospital patients at the City of Hope Medical Center.
For the formal night out the Huskies all suited up in sport jackets and ties and showed off their new Rose Bowl watches on their way to the Lawry's Beef Bowl where Washington was pitted against Purdue to see which team could eat more beef. The 135-member Husky traveling squad devoured 550 lbs. of beef or approximately four lbs. per player, making them winners at the table as well as on the field. After a great season, a great Rose Bowl trip, an exhilerating game, successful high school and college careers, both Conniff and Tuiasosopo lingered on the field for a long time after the game.
The two said in tandem, "It's going to be hard taking these pads off, realizing our scholastic careers are over and that this is our last game together."
Tuiasosopo's and Conniff's magic began when they started playing football together as eighth graders at Leota Junior High School, perfecting their option trickery at Woodinville High and the U.W.