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The 2002 Rose Bowl was the site of the 2001-02 NCAA College Football National Championship Game, pitting the undefeated No. 2 Washington Huskies against the undefeated No. 1 Mississippi Falcons. The game was hyped due to its pitting of Bosch-trophy winning quarterback Julious Everridge of Ole Miss, the first black quarterback to win the award, against the runner-up in Bosch voting, Husky tailback Darren Rose. Ole Miss was a heavy favorite due to the prolific offense and dual-threat it employed in Everridge. The Huskies scored an upset by kicking a last-second field goal to win the game 20-17, known as "The Kick," making the game an instant classic and cementing Washington as one of the premier college powerhouses for the next decade.
2001 College Football Season
Mississippi FalconsThe Mississippi Falcons were the reigning SouthCo and Sugar Bowl champions entering the 2001 season, and were ranked in the Top 5 of every major poll entering the season, including a No. 1 ranking in the prestigious AP Poll. Coached by Rowe Talmadge, who had been with the university since 1991, the Falcons had upset then-No. 1 Texas in the 2000 SouthCo Championship Game behind the passing and running of Julious Everridge and then gone on to win a blowout victory over then-No. 5 Missouri in the Sugar Bowl. The win, coupled with the return of 18 starters, made Ole Miss a prohibitive SouthCo and national title favorite entering the 2001 season.
Everridge, whose play in the final games of 2000 had shown his prolific potential, was lights out as a quarterback, becoming the first SouthCo quarterback to rush for more than 1,200 yards, racking up 1,224 yards on the ground with 11 rushing touchdowns while passing for 3,203 yards and 20 touchdowns. The Falcon offense was called the "run-n'-gun" and often relied on four wide receivers and a lone tailback in one of the earliest versions of the spread offense.
Mississippi rose to the No. 1 ranking in mid-October and never looked back, surviving a quadruple-overtime game at Kentucky to keep their perfect season intact. They blew out rival Mississippi State 56-0 in the most lopsided game in the series' lengthy history and marched into Altanta for the SouthCo title game against Texas, having gone through the season as one of the most dominant teams in SouthCo history.
In the SouthCo title game, the Falcons dominated on both sides of the ball, blasting the 11-1, No. 5 Longhorns 45-14. Falcon cornerback Joe Lawrence accounted for two of the defense's four interceptions of Texas quarterback Steven Dye and Everridge passed for 344 yards and four touchdowns in the rout, while rushing for 133 yards. Everridge became the first black quarterback to be awarded the Bosch Trophy later that month.
Washington HuskiesThe Washington Huskies entered the season ranked in the Top Ten of most polls based on their strong play at the end of the previous season, in which they had the same record as Oregon State (10-2) but did not win the Northwest Division of the PCC based on head-to-head tiebreakers. However, having dominated then-No. 7 Arkansas in the Paradise Bowl on December 31st, 2000, the Huskies were the hot preseason PCC darling entering 2001, returning All-American tailback and PCC Player of the Year Darren Rose, as well as first-team All-PCC quarterback Luke Huard and All-American linebacker Christian Sloane.
Coached by Dan Price since 1996, the Huskies dominated most of their opponents through the first four weeks of the season, jumping out to an early 4-0 record with a winning margin of two touchdowns per game. However, in an October game at USC, Huard tore his Achilles tendon and was replaced by redshirt senior Mike Plutarski, who guided the Huskies to a come-from-behind 27-24 victory over USC, throwing a touchdown pass to Rose with 17 seconds left on the clock.
Plutarski played well during the remainder of the Huskies' games in Huard's absence and Rose set a Husky rushing record by racking up 1,659 yards on the ground and 12 touchdowns, only 122 yards and 2 touchdowns shy of Andre Shipley's PCC rushing records set in 1999.
The Huskies final three games were alarmingly close. Washington need an overtime interception to seal a 35-28 win over Oregon State, the defending division champion, to earn their first win in Corvallis since 1985. A week later, during the Apple Cup in Puyallup against rival Washington State, the PCC-leading Cougar defense bottled up Rose and WSU jumped out to a halftime lead of 24-10. Plutarski exploded in the second half, passing for 213 yards and four touchdowns as the Huskies went on to trounce the Cougars 38-31.
In the next game, the PCC Championship Game against Cal in nearby Tacoma, the Huskies once again fell behind at halftime, 21-7. Rose and Plutarski led the Huskies to an ambitious comeback and won with a last-second touchdown from Plutarski to Michael Tyler to win, 31-28. The Huskies were one of two undefeated teams remaining thanks to Huron's loss to Notre Dame in the Lakes championship game and thus moved up from No. 3 to No. 2 when the Rose Bowl extended its bids for the national championship game. Darren Rose finished second behind Julious Everridge in the Bosch voting.
While originally scheduled for January 7th, the Rose Bowl was pushed back to the 13th after a Los Angeles County Metro Bus strike jeapordized transportation for the game. When the strike was settled January 6th, the game could proceed. NCAA officials had briefly considered moving the game to Los Angeles Coliseum, home field of the USC Trojans, if the strike were not settled in time for the new January 13th date.
Much of the pregame buildup was based around Julious Everridge being the first black quarterback to win the Bosch trophy. While numerous African-American quarterbacks had been nominated in the past, he was the first to actually win. However, he could not erase the stigma of being a "running quarterback" and declared during an interview after one of the last practices before the title game that, "I'm a thrower, not a runner."
The Huskies entered the game as 9 point underdogs, although many pundits expected the fired-up Huskies, who opted to wear white due to their unblemished bowl record in white jerseys, to play extremely competitively. Much of the hype centered on the game as a "Bosch Showdown" between the two top finalists, and others hyped the "East vs. West" storyline permeating the previous year's game, as Washington and Mississippi had never played one another in school history.
The game was televised nationwide on CBS. Pop group Three Things performed the national anthem and Californian musician James Charles played the halftime show.
The Mississippi Falcons received the opening kickoff and Nick Harmon returned it to the 23 yard line. Julious Everridge proceeded to lead a 15-play, 8:53 minute, 77-yard scoring drive capped off on third-and-goal by a William Jones one-yard score to jump out to a 7-point lead. The Huskies struggled throughout the first half, with Plutarski throwing two interceptions and Darren Rose rushing for a combined 13 yards on eleven first half carries. The Falcons would quickly score again at the beginning of the second quarter on a 14-yard pass from Everridge to Jarramee Evans to take a commanding 14-0 lead.
Plutarski managed to find his groove and hit Steven Jouco for a 42-yard completion to bring the Huskies within field goal range just before time expired. Nick Early came out and hit a 34-yard field goal with one second left in the half to make the deficit 14-3 at halftime.
The third quarter had only one score, engineered by Plutarski and Rose on a lenghty, clock-consuming 15-play 8:45 minute drive that started at the Husky 20. The play was highlighted by a 14 yard run by Rose on third-and-six, gaining a critical first down near midfield. On third-and-goal from the 2, Plutarski dove in on his first rushing touchdown of the year to make the score 14-10.
The Falcons and Huskies punted on their next four possessions, although the Falcons hit two huge plays, one a 35-yard run by William Jones on the first play of the fourth quarter, to get inside the Husky 5. They failed to convert three times and kicked a short field goal to take a seven point lead, 17-10.
The Huskies responded with a 79-yard drive of their own ended by a surprising strike from Plutarski to Michael Tyler for a 29 yard touchdown reception, tying the game for the first time.
Everridge guided the Falcons downfield on the next possession with a little over five minutes left, and after being stopped on third-and-1 at the Husky 21 yard line, the Falcons kicked a field goal that sailed wide right with two minutes left on the clock.
While Washington head coach Dan Price was telling his staff to prepare for overtime, Plutarski threw short passes towards the sidelines and the Huskies marched downfield. On what appeared to be an initial tackle at the line of scrimmage, Rose escaped for a critical first down on third-and-four. With only five seconds left on the clock and having thrown two incomplete passes to bring up fourth down at the Mississippi 29 yard line, the Huskies brought out the field goal unit. Nick Early kicked a 39-yard field goal that sailed straight down the middle of the uprights as time expired, his second field goal of the day and second during the final seconds of the quarter. The final score: Washington 20, Mississippi 17. The Huskies had pulled off the upset to win their first-ever national championship.
Postgame Reaction and Legacy
The NCAA Patrick O'Brien National Championship Trophy was handed to Dan Price and UW Athletic Director Nolan Young by four-time Rose Bowl champion and former Oregon Ducks (Washington's primarily rival) coach Martin Buhl, who begrudgingly acknowledged this fact during the trophy ceremony. The game was hailed as an instant classic by many sports pundits and the play of Plutarski, who was named the MVP of the game, was lauded universally. Julious Everridge, who fought tooth and nail throughout the game to keep his faltering Falcons competitive, was praised as well for his effort. Denzel Washington of ESPN called the 2002 Rose Bowl, "The reason we watch college football. Two quarterbacks playing their hearts out against unrelenting defenses."
Washington would build off of their national championship season and win every Elite Series bowl they appeared in the rest of the decade, besides the 2006-07 national championship game and 2008-09 Rose Bowl, giving Price a record of 7-2 in Elite Series games, and he appeared in nine consecutive such Elite Series contests between 1999 and 2008 - 2009 would be the first season since 1998 that Price's Huskies did not play in an Elite Series Bowl. Price's streak with Washington is still the longest streak of Elite Series appearances by a PCC team in history (San Diego is currently the active leader, with eight from 2002-2009, although they are unlikely to appear in one of the 2010 contests).
Mississippi has not returned to the title game or SouthCo championship game since their loss in the 2002 Rose Bowl, largely due to the rise of Alabama as the SouthCo East's dominant team, and Rowe Talmadge has lost his only two Elite Series contests - both to Clemson in 2004 and 2006 - since then, before finally retiring prior to the 2007 season.
Everridge played for five seasons in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins, starting at quarterback for his final three (2004-06) before a career-ending knee injury ended his 2006 campaign while the Dolphins were still undefeated. Everridge returned to Mississippi as an assistant coach, and as of 2010 is the current quarterbacks coach.
Plutarski was drafted by the Vancouver Blazers of the WFA but released following training camp. Darren Rose wound up starring with the San Francisco 49ers for eight seasons before finally retiring after lingering knee problems throughout the 2008 and 2009 football seasons. Rose had his #22 retired at Washington, and Everridge is one of only three Ole Miss players to ever have his number (#5) retired.