Huskies stay close to No. 1 USC, but mistakes hurt
The oddsmakers figured it was pretty inconceivable that the Washington Huskies could knock off the top-ranked team in the country Saturday...
Seattle Times staff reporter
The oddsmakers figured it was pretty inconceivable that the Washington Huskies could knock off the top-ranked team in the country Saturday, tabbing USC as a 20 ½-point favorite.
And an inconceivable game it was.
How else to describe a game in which the Trojans outgained UW 460-190, limiting the Huskies to just 90 yards passing -- UW's lowest total in almost three years -- and yet were still hanging on for dear life in the final seconds before taking a 27-24 victory?
"Today seemed like it was almost a setback," said USC left tackle Sam Baker before adding, "We won. You're not going to win every game 100-0."
No, the Trojans were merely thinking about winning by any margin possible when the Huskies lined up for an onside kick with 34 seconds left.
"Washington was there to take it," said USC coach Pete Carroll. "All they needed was one more chance."
Instead, USC's Terrell Thomas recovered the kick and the Trojans escaped to improve to 4-0 (2-0 in Pac-10 play) while UW dropped to 2-3 and 0-2.
"I am extremely proud of our football team," said UW coach Tyrone Willingham. "But in saying that, I don't take any solace that we came close."
The Huskies stayed in the game with gritty play on their side and sloppy play on USC's part as the Trojans lost three turnovers, had a punt blocked, missed a field goal and committed 16 penalties for 161 yards. UW scored on drives of 14, 22 and 9 yards as well as returning an interception for a touchdown.
"We were so horrible that it was hard to watch," Carroll said.
The Huskies found the result just as tough to stomach, especially realizing they had lost to USC in the final seconds for the second consecutive year -- the Trojans won in Los Angeles last season 26-20.
"It's tough to lose a game like this," said UW defensive tackle Jordan Reffett. "They made some mistakes and we didn't capitalize the way we wanted to. We've got to learn how to win these games."
The game came on a day when the school honored the 1960 Huskies, who went 10-1 and beat No. 1-ranked Minnesota in the Rose Bowl, as national champions with 38 members of that squad in attendance.
The Huskies, wearing throwback uniforms to honor that team, led only once at 7-0 early in the second quarter when Jake Locker scored on a 10-yard run following a USC fumble that gave UW the ball at the 14.
USC responded with two long touchdown drives to take a 14-7 lead and seemed ready to take command when it had the ball near midfield late in the second quarter. But UW's Mesphin Forrester intercepted a tipped pass and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 14.
USC came right back to take a 17-14 lead at halftime and then used another long drive to take a 24-14 lead late in the third quarter.
But a bizarre 10-play, 22-yard drive that included two USC pass interference penalties resulted in a Ryan Perkins field goal that cut the gap to 24-17 with 12:44 left.
"I've never seen a team work so hard and want to win so bad," said USC center Matt Spanos of the Huskies. "They never quit. You have to respect a team like that."
The UW defense then forced a three-and-out and got the ball back at its 36 with 11:01 remaining.
But the Huskies couldn't move, with a pass to Louis Rankin on third-and-four netting just 3 yards, and Willingham deciding to punt, saying he figured UW would get another chance.
UW did, again holding USC to three-and-out (thanks to in part to two more Trojans' false-start penalties) and Husky Stadium and the 68,654 spectators were rocking as they haven't in years.
But the Huskies, who figured to need to play near perfect ball to beat USC, made one mistake too many when Anthony Russo fumbled a punt, giving USC the ball at the Huskies' 43-yard line with 7:05 left.
The Huskies appeared to have USC stopped when Byron Davenport looked to have an interception in the end zone. But after it was initially ruled in UW's favor, a replay showed clearly he had dropped the ball. USC got a 33-yard field goal on the next play by David Buehler to take a 27-17 lead with 3:01 left.
Said Willingham of the drops by Russo and Davenport: "What seems so simple sometimes is not that simple."
Still, the Huskies kept fighting. A high snap gave Roy Lewis time to break through and block a USC punt and return it to the 9 with 1:03 left, and UW scored on a Locker 1-yard run with 34 seconds left. But Thomas then recovered the onside kick to clinch it for USC.
"It's tough to know you were there and good enough to play with them but you couldn't pull it out in the end," said Locker. "We didn't come into this game expecting to lose. We came in expecting to win."
The Huskies now have a bye week before resuming action Oct. 13 at Arizona State.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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