LAS VEGAS – If someone wants a quick study on Washington’s 2012 football season, all they’ll need to do is watch Saturday’s MAACO Bowl Las Vegas.
In a game that mirrored their season, the Huskies staggered out of the gate, then rallied gallantly to perch on the doorstep of a happy ending only to fall short.
And when Boise State used a last-second interception to emerge with a 28-26 win over the Huskies in front of 33,217 at Sam Boyd Stadium, UW was left to ponder yet another 7-6 season.
It was the third 7-6 season in a row under fourth-year coach Steve Sarkisian, whose record is 26-25. A win against the Broncos would have allowed the Huskies to claim having taken another step forward.
Instead, UW lost its last two games by a combined five points – each after losing a lead in the final minutes – defeats that will gnaw at the Huskies all offseason as they fret over how close they were to winning nine games.
“We feel (we’re) much better than that (being 7-6),” said UW quarterback Keith Price. “Two games back-to-back (the other being the 31-28 loss to WSU in the Apple Cup) that we kind of gave the ballgame to them.”
Price had UW primed for a dramatic comeback when he drove the Huskies into position for a 38-yard field goal by Travis Coons that put the Huskies ahead 26-25 with 4:09 remaining, Washington’s first lead of the game.
But Boise State used a 47-yard kickoff return by Shane Williams-Rhodes to get into position for a field goal, a 27-yarder by Michael Frisina that put BSU back ahead, 28-26, with 1:16 remaining.
Price again helped move UW into Boise State territory. With 14 seconds left and UW at the Boise State 49, Price tried to hit receiver Cody Bruns down the middle of the field, a play that if completed might have been good enough to set up another field goal. Instead, Boise State safety Jeremy Ioane picked off the pass to seal the win for Boise State, which improved to 11-2 with its third straight bowl win in Las Vegas.
“We were really trying to hit (tight end) Austin (Seferian-Jenkins) to get a first down and the goal was to get to the 30-yard line for a field goal,” said UW coach Steve Sarkisian. “There was a lot going on at the time but we were just trying to stick it in there to Austin and convert. I don’t know if Austin was covered, it was hard to tell. Keith went to a secondary read and the safety read his eyes and made a nice play on it and intercepted the ball.”
It added up to what Sarkisian termed a “frustrating loss.” Early on, the Huskies simply looked flustered. Boise State used two UW turnovers and two long drives to take an 18-3 lead with 5:25 to play in the second quarter. Time and again, the Huskies let Boise State convert long third downs. And early on, the only offense it had was from sophomore running back Bishop Sankey (Gonzaga Prep), who was named the game’s MVP after rushing for 205 yards, a UW bowl-game record.
”We weren’t terrific up front initially,” Sarkisian said of the offense. “I thought we were out of sync. I thought our energy was not great at the start of the game and (it) picked up in the second quarter and continued on throughout the game.”
Indeed, UW scored two touchdowns in the final 4:42 of the first half to get right back in the game. First, Sankey scored on a 26-yard run to make it 18-10. Then, with three seconds left in the half, Price scrambled in from 7 yards out.
The teams then traded blows throughout the second half, the game turning into something of a shootout, counter to the pregame notion that it might be a defensive struggle – UW gained 447 yards against a BSU defense that came in allowing just 304, ninth in the nation.
Boise State drove 74 yards for a touchdown to open the second half, then UW drove 75 for one. The Huskies, though, missed on a pass in an attempt to get two points and remained behind 25-23, which proved critical at the end.
Early in the fourth quarter, Coons missed a 41-yard field goal that could have put UW ahead, shades of his misfire at the end of the WSU game.
But he got his redemption a few minutes later. Midway through the fourth quarter, UW drove from its own 4 to the BSU 20 before the drive stalled, leaving the Huskies to settle for Coons’ 38-yard field goal
Williams-Rhodes, though, put Boise State quickly in scoring position, and Frisina – who had been erratic all season – came through.
And that gave Boise State the upper hand in what is sort of a three-game series between the two teams. The next game comes next Aug. 31 when Boise State will play Washington in the first game in the newly renovated Husky Stadium. UW will then play in Boise in 2015.
“It hurts,” said receiver Kasen Williams. “And the worst part is you have to live with it for nine months until we get the opportunity to play them again. We just have to continue to drive and get better, and this is going to be our edge. This is what we are going to have on our backs while we are working out because we know we are going to have the opportunity to play them again.”