Huskies fall at the end
SEATTLE – Maybe it was fatigue. Maybe it was celebrating early. Maybe it was injuries. Maybe it was a mental collapse. Heck, maybe it was even just a better team.
Whatever the case, even though the Washington football team showed that it is improved, the suffering continued and the pain this time was possibly worse. The Huskies saw an 11-point fourth-quarter lead evaporate as a defense that had been so good for three quarters fell apart in the fourth, as Air Force defeated Washington 20-17 in front of 26,482 fans at Qwest Field Saturday.
The game was a disappointing beginning to the Tyrone Willingham era at UW, and the coach said his team had every chance to win the game.
“We had an opportunity to win the ballgame and let it slip through our fingers,” Willingham said. “There were several opportunities for us to make some plays that we didn’t make, and they did a great job of taking advantage of the opportunity to keep the pressure on us.”
For the players, being so close this time after being blown out of most games last season makes this loss all the tougher.
“It hurts bad,” receiver Sonny Shackelford said. “We should have won this game, we all know that. We just couldn’t get it done.”
The loss was the seventh straight for Washington dating to last season and it was the third time in a row the Falcons defeated the Huskies. But for much of the game, it appeared that Washington was ready to rebound from last season’s disaster. Instead, a solid showing by the UW offense was wasted when the defense could not hold on.
“We just didn’t seize the moment,” linebacker Joe Lobendahn said. “We were up, we thought we were going to win the game, but we didn’t play four quarters.”
Quarterback Isaiah Stanback was solid, completing 19 of 27 for 242 yards. His breakout performance came in the second half, when the junior completed all six of his passes, including a 27-yarder to Cody Ellis in the right side of the end zone for a touchdown that made it 17-6 with 10:43 to play. Ellis’ leaping, two-handed catch as he fell backwards completed an 11-play, 86-yard drive that seemed to give Washington momentum, and when Air
Force’s Greg Kirkwood fumbled the kickoff to give his team the ball at the one, it appeared the Huskies were in control.
But they weren’t.
On the fourth play of the series, Adam Fitch, the Falcons’ backup quarterback, found Kirkwood on the right side of the field. Washington safety Dashon Goldson, rather than making the tackle, tried to strip the ball but failed, and cornerback Josh Okeobor wasn’t in position to make the tackle as Kirkwood went 84 yards for a score to pull Air Force within four with 91/2 minutes to go. The play was the longest pass play for the Falcons since 1984.
Goldson said he’d seen on game film that Air Force’s receivers did not carry the ball tightly and thought he could make a big play.
“I should have went for the sure tackle,” said Goldson, who finished with 11 tackles and a fumble recovery. “That was a mistake. … In the open field like that you have to be smart, make smart decisions, and that wasn’t one.”
“We always talk about stripping the football and I respect him for going for it,” Washington defensive coordinator Kent Baer said. “But you’ve got to get the guy on the ground.”
Washington’s offense was forced to punt and Air Force took over at the 17. The Falcons used their option to move down the field with ease, converting one fourth down and two third downs. On third-and-9 from the UW 15, Shaun Carney passed to Kirkwood to put the Falcons on the 1. Two plays later, Carney went up the middle to give Air Force the lead with 34 seconds to go.
On the ensuing kickoff, Washington freshman linebacker Darrion Jones bobbled the kick and UW could do nothing with the poor field position.