Photo credit: gostanford.com
By Ana Kieu
Tavita Pritchard was not sure who his starting quarterback was going to be against Arizona until Saturday morning. He was hoping it would be senior K.J. Costello, who had missed the last three games due to injury.
When did Pritchard find out?
“When I showed up at the team hotel,” said Pritchard, the Andrew Luck Director of Offense and Kevin M. Hogan Quarterbacks Coach. “He didn’t know. I looked at him and said, ‘Yep, he’s going.'”
Costello was itching to get back on the field. He resumed practice this week on a limited basis, but was questionable until pregame warmups.
Once Costello got the go-ahead from Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, David Shaw, he jump-started the Cardinal offense. Costello’s experience, leadership, personality and right arm sparked Stanford to a 41-31 victory on Reunion Homecoming. Showing little rust, he connected on 30-of-43 passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns in helping Stanford record a season high in points.
“It seems like it’s been an eternity,” Costello said. “Three, four weeks standing on the sideline, guys going down left and right. Being one of those guys, it doesn’t feel good. It feels awful, especially when you play this game because you want to do anything for your boys.”
Teammates loved having Costello back.
“He ran the ship today,” said junior offensive tackle Foster Sarell. “He’s fun to block for and I love playing with him. He’s got great energy.”
Added fifth-year senior running back Cameron Scarlett, who eclipsed 100 yards (102) for the second time this season and scored two touchdowns, “He’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around. I know it was hurting him not to play but having him back shows how dangerous he and our offense can be.”
Shaw gave Costello a game ball afterward in the raucous locker room.
“I can’t say enough about K.J. Costello, him coming back, and it wasn’t just him throwing the football,” Shaw said. “Two-time captain, senior leader, felt his energy, felt his passion, pushing guys, talking to them, giving us great feedback. Can’t say enough about the juice he gave us.”
Once Costello made it through warmups, Shaw knew he was ready.
“We got over the hump this week in practice,” Shaw said. “Last week, he tried to go, and he threw the ball extremely well on Monday night, and the next day he couldn’t throw it. This week, we got past Monday and crossed our fingers for Tuesday; got past Tuesday and crossed our fingers for Wednesday. It was just one of those weeks.”
Costello, however, isn’t 100 percent.
“We gave him that opportunity and he went out there and played one of the better games of his career,” said Shaw. “Really, really proud of him.”
Costello had plenty of help. After allowing seven sacks the previous week against UCLA, the young offensive line surrendered zero against the Wildcats and helped the Cardinal accumulate 222 yards on the ground.
“It was awesome,” said Sarell. “We ran the ball right down their throat until the game ended. It’s what you dream about.”
Freshmen Walter Rouse (left tackle), Barrett Miller (left guard) and Jake Hornibrook (right guard) continue to learn and improve with every snap.
“I think as a whole, the O-line did a great job,” Rouse said. “There are always little things we can get better at. I feel like we have come a long way and still have so far to go.”
Apparently, the young unit’s fight surprised the Wildcat defense.
“I guess we underestimated their line,” said Wildcat senior safety Tristan Cooper. “We didn’t think their line was going to be that good. They came out balling. They’re better on the field than they are on film.”
Eleven Stanford players caught passes — 12 if you count a deflection Costello caught. Sophomore wide receiver Simi Fehoko hauled in three for a career-high 97 yards and two went for scores.
Sophomore wide receiver Brycen Tremayne made a one-handed grab in the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown; junior Connor Wedington collected a team-high seven passes for 61 yards; sophomore wide receiver Michael Wilson caught six for 45; and junior tight end Colby Parkinson grabbed five for 68.
“I feel like it was just a long time coming,” Tremayne said. “We’ve been working so hard to make those plays and it’s finally clicking. Coach (Bobby) Kennedy said it was just a matter of time.”
It was the most downfield throws the Cardinal has attempted all season.
“Our guys knew it was a possibility and were ready for it,” said Pritchard, citing man-to-man and soft coverages they had seen on film. “We got those opportunities early and all of our guys capitalized.”
Junior cornerback Paulson Adebo intercepted two passes and is now tied for the Pac-12 lead with four on the season. He also ranks first in passes defended with 14.
“Big-time players make big-time plays,” said Shaw, who awarded Adebo a game ball.
Both of Adebo’s thefts came in the fourth quarter.
“It felt really good just to help my team and come out with a win,” he said. “It was fun to finish it at the end.”
Freshman Ryan Sanborn joined a small club of Stanford players by doing all kicking duties against Arizona. He kicked off eight times, with six going for touchbacks; punted five times and averaged 43.8 yards; made both field goal attempts and all five extra points.
“The special thing is the game is not too big for him,” said special teams coordinator Pete Alamar. “You would hope a senior would handle it the way he handled it. He had one punt he’d like back, but everything else, he hit the ball pure.”
Sanborn’s role expanded when senior kicker Jet Toner was lost for the season against UCLA. Alamar limited Sanborn in practice and pregame warmups.
“We had to change everything we do just to keep him fresh,” Alamar said.
Stanford (4-4, 3-3 Pac-12) has a welcome bye next week and resumes play on November 9 at Colorado. The Buffaloes (3-5, 1-4 Pac-12) fell to USC on Friday night, despite stellar performances from senior quarterback Steven Montez and junior wide receiver Laviska Shenault. The scrappy Montez threw for 324 yards and three touchdowns, while the elusive Shenault caught nine for 172 yards, including a 71-yard score.
Colorado plays at UCLA on Saturday.
Blake Strenstrom, a redshirt freshman and the son of former Stanford quarterback Steve Stenstrom, spelled Montez briefly and ran once for 27 yards. Steve Stenstrom played five seasons in the NFL, including 1999 with the San Francisco 49ers. He was inducted into the Stanford Athletics Hall of Fame in 2016.
REAL RECOGNIZE REAL
Members of the 1999 Pac-12 Championship Stanford football team and head coach Tyrone Willingham were recognized on the field in the second quarter. The upstart team was the first to play in the Rose Bowl in 28 years.
Senior inside linebacker Andrew Pryts led the Cardinal in tackles with eight, while junior strong safety Stuart Head added seven … Stanford produced seven tackles for loss — two by sophomore defensive end Thomas Booker — and three sacks … Fifth-year senior outside linebacker Casey Toohill had a sack and now ranks third in the conference with five and fifth in tackles for loss with 7.5 … Wedington had two nice kickoff returns and ranks first in the Pac-12, averaging 28.4 yards per attempt. He’s also fifth in all-purpose yards (114.1) and 10th in receiving with 39 catches … The Cardinal ranks second in the league in red zone scoring at 92.3 percent … Stanford ranks first in the conference in kickoff returns and kickoff coverage … Former Stanford great Paul Wiggin was recognized as part of the program’s 125-year celebration of football. A standout defensive tackle, he received All-America accolades in 1955 and 1956. Wiggin played for the Cleveland Browns from 1957-67, then turned to coaching. He was head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs from 1975-77 and returned to The Farm as head coach of the Cardinal from 1980-83. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005 … David Yankey, a stellar offensive guard/tackle for the Cardinal and a member of the 2013 and 2014 Rose Bowl teams, served as Stanford’s honorary captain. He started 40 games for the Cardinal and was a consensus All-American in 2012 and unanimous All-America in 2013.
“It seems like an eternity.” — Freshman offensive tackle Walter Rouse on his progression since his first start against USC on September 7.