September 6, 2008

Huskies Lose Heartbreaker at Home

What a heartbreaker for the Huskies, as an excessive celebration call on Washington's tying touchdown aids in a blocked extra point attempt, giving BYU a 28-27 victory. Sophomore quarterback Jake Locker was flagged for the personal foul after he tossed the ball in the air following his three-yard touchdown run to cut the Cougars' lead to one-point. The penalty forced the Huskies to attempt a 35-yard extra point, which was blocked by BYU, pushing the Cougars' winning streak to 12 games, the nation's longest.

"It's unfortunate, but it's one that they almost have to call. It really should be a no call, but it's one that they've got to call when they see that - that's what they've been prepped all year to do," expressed Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham. "We know that the game is an emotional game, and you cannot play it without emotion - therefore you're going to celebrate. The key is trying to manufacture the right type of celebration that does not belittle the game and the sportsmanship that should be a part of the game.

"It changes everything. I don't think there's any question about that. It made a difference, but it's still one that we count on ourselves being able to protect and get off the kick."

Washington Offensive Coordinator Tim Lappano was noticeably irritated following the game.

"That was tough - he did break the rule, but by no means did he mean any disrespect to BYU. He wasn't taunting anybody, he flipped it up in the air, which is against the rules," explained Lappano. "That one hurt, and that was a tough lesson to learn. You don't make that call. Everyone knows he wasn't taunting anybody, that's not the kind of kid he is. I just don't agree with it."
Unsportsmanlike penalty aside, the extra point could have been made.

"I didn't see it, but if it was, it should have been called. Even if it was our team, it should have been called. The rules are the rules. I'm glad that there was one play left still to decide the outcome," expressed BYU Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall. "I'm not sure that play or the penalty can say they determined the outcome. There still was another play left, and in that play, our young men tried hard and we blocked the kick. I don't know where they went or who got it, but I just said, 'everybody rush'.

"I asked [assistant coach] Paul Tidwell if there was any chance they would have the nerve to fake it, and he said 'there's always a chance'. So I said, 'all out rush', and the players nodded like they believed they could block it - they were smiling."

Despite the controversial call, Husky and Cougar fans alike were treated to a very good football game, that saw three ties and four lead changes.

"I'm extremely proud of our young men and the way they battled this afternoon. We talked to them about coming out and playing like Huskies play, with the kind of fight, the kind of effort, the kind of energy, and I thought very much that they did that," said Willingham. "Obviously there were a few things in terms of execution that we could have done better, but I thought our young men gave themselves the opportunity to win, and that should be the kind of pride that the Huskies should play with."

Although they lost, the Huskies offense looked worlds better than the team that took the field against Oregon last week.

"Our kids responded well this week. There was a lot of pressure of them, and they fought hard and showed a lot of grit in this football game. They didn't make all of the plays, but they found a way to give us chance to tie the game on that last drive. You have to like their fight - the young kids are getting better," expressed Lappano. "As those guys get more game experience, they are going to get better every week. I was proud of those young kids today."

Washington's defense however, struggled for the majority of the game, giving up 475 yards of total offense to the Cougars, who won their first away game against a BCS conference opponent since the 2001 season when they beat the Bulldogs of Mississippi State. Washington's defense recorded no sacks or tackles for loss.

"The kids are working hard, I just don't have them in the right positions enough yet - that is all I can tell you. They will continue to work hard, and we will find a way for the talent to be utilized," explained Washington Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell. "We knew they had a nice running back, an outstanding quarterback and a good tight end. They have a lot of tools, a lot of foundation and tradition in their offense. We thought we could do more, but we didn't do enough to win the ball game, no question about it. I really felt there would have been a different result today, and that all starts with me."

BYU took a 7-0 lead on it's first drive when junior quarterback Max Hall connected with junior wide receiver Austin Collie on a 38-yard pass. Hall finished the game 30-of-41 for 338 yards and three touchdowns to just one interception. Collie managed five catches for 74 yards and the aforementioned score.

"I rolled out to the right, and Austin made a great play. He realized I was rolling out, and he took off running," explained Hall. "I just threw it up to him, hoping he would make play, and he did. It was a good start for us and kind of set the tone for the game."

Washington tied it up later in the first quarter when Locker found the endzone on a 14-yard keeper. After stopping BYU on it's third drive of the game, the Huskies took a 14-7 lead on a 48-yard bomb from Locker to freshman wide receiver Jermaine Kearse.

"We are taught to stay close and use our body as a shield and then make the big catch," explained Kearse, who finished the game with two catches for 54 yards and one touchdown. "I just stayed on his toes, ran a good post route, and it felt great to get my first catch in Husky Stadium."

BYU knotted the game at 14-14 with a little over four minutes to play in the first half when Hall found junior tight end Andrew George for a one-yard reception in the back of the endzone. Washington opened up the second half with a methodical 13-play, 65-yard drive, which ended in a one-yard touchdown run by senior fullback Luke Kravitz. The drive was highlighted by a 17-yard Locker keeper. The Cougars responded on their ensuing possession, driving 63-yards on seven plays to tie the game on an 11-yard touchdown run by senior running back Fui Vakapuna.

On 2nd and goal from the six-yard line, BYU looked poised to take a 28-21 lead with just over eleven and half minutes left in the fourth quarter, but sophomore running back Harvey Unga fumbled on the goal line. The ball was knocked loose by sophomore safety Nate Williams and recovered by sophomore safety Tripper Johnson for a touchback.

"I heard everybody yelling, and I thought that he had scored. When I got up, everybody was jumping around. I was just trying to hit him, and I guess I knocked the ball out," explained Williams. "I didn't even know I did it. I was just trying to get my head on the other side to stop him from getting in the endzone. Coach preaches that all of the time, to put your head on the ball, and I did it and it worked out."

"The run went away from me. I was the safety on the right side. Nate Williams had a big hit right on the one-yard line. I was just running over there, kind of clean up, and the ball just popped out right there," explained Johnson. "My eyes lit up - I had to get the ball, it was my ball and no one else's. I was right there along with another BYU guy. I was fortunate, and in the right spot at the right time. But you've got to give credit to Nate Williams."

The fumble was the lone blemish on an outstanding day for Unga, who finished the game with 23 rushes for 136 yards and five catches for 39 yards.

The Cougars took over possession with just over eight minutes left in the game after holding Washington to 27 yards on seven plays on the Huskies' ensuing possession following the recovered fumble. BYU promptly marched 84 yards on nine plays to take a 28-21 lead on a 15-yard touchdown catch from Hall to junior tight end Dennis Pitta. Pitta finished the game with 10 catches for 148 yards, both game highs.

"Dennis is just a good football player. He's fast, he's strong, he's big, he can get open," expressed Hall of Pitta. "He made some key plays for us - some third down conversions that were huge for us in the game. He's a go-to guy and I'm glad I have him."

Washington responded by driving 76 yards on 17 plays to come within one-point before the extra point attempt was blocked by BYU junior defensive end Jan Jorgensen.

"I was disappointed in myself. I have never done anything like that in the past. I wasn't trying to show anyone up by doing it, that is not what I'm about," expressed a business-like Locker, who finished the game 17-of-32 for 204 yards, while rushing 18 times for 62 yards and two more scores. "I have the utmost respect for those guys, and they are a good football team. It was just exciting, and I like to play the game with emotion but it got the best of me. I didn't think about it and I didn't premeditate it. Obviously it's something that will be on my mind next time."

"Earlier in the game, on some PATs, I was able to squeeze through a little bit," explained Jorgensen. "We got good penetration from all over and I was able to squeeze through and stick out that left hand and get it. We had great penetration across the line, so our guys did a good job."

Washington senior safety Darin Harris sustained an injury early in the fourth quarter, and was driven off on a stretcher. The diagnosis appears to be a concussion. Tests were negative on any neck injury, but he is expected to miss next week's game against Oklahoma.

"I think that's difficult anytime that happens. I was familiar with that and it kind of hit home for me. It's something that we understand is a part of the game. We said a little prayer for him and we wished him the best and hoped that was nothing too serious," expressed Locker. "It's on your mind when something like that happens. When your teammate, a guy that you've spent a large majority of time with - it's difficult because it's like a family member out there being in that ambulance."

Freshman running back Chris Polk also left the game with a dislocated shoulder. His status for the Oklahoma game is uncertain. In Polk's place, fellow freshman David Freeman played well, rushing six times for 31 yards in his Husky debut. Freeman became the ninth true freshman to play for Washington this season.

The loss will no doubt make Willingham's seat, which is already very hot, hotter. However, Washington's players remain committed to their head coach.

"As a team, we've come together. We've had team meetings, and Willingham is our guy. Everyone has a lot of respect for him, especially captains for this team. We have the utmost respect for Coach Willingham. He's been doing this for a long time," expressed Johnson. "He's guided us in the right direction, and it's up to us players to perform. He's not going out there on the field and performing. He's done a great job, and we, as a team, want him as a head coach. It's up to us to perform."

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