Hawaii rallies to edge UW, 35-28
The Huskies had a chance to silence them all. The 49,666 fans packed into Aloha Stadium waiting to see the biggest victory in Hawaii history...
Seattle Times staff reporter
HONOLULU --- Later, they said correctly that one play didn't make or break the game.
But Marcel Reece's inability to corral a potential tying, or winning, touchdown with 12 seconds left here Saturday night might have defined not just a game but a season as the Huskies blew a 21-point first-quarter lead and lost to host Hawaii 35-28.
"This was a real disappointment because our young men played a heck of a football game,'' said UW coach Tyrone Willingham. "It's that old football circumstance that one more play and we win a football. We just did not make the one more play.''
With UW threatening to tie the game, Husky quarterback Jake Locker hit Reece in the corner of the end zone from six yards out. But the ball bounced off Reece, got kicked in the air, and eventually landed in the hands of Hawaii defensive back Ryan Mouton.
And when it did, it allowed Hawaii to complete a comeback from an early three-touchdown deficit and escape with a thrilling win over the Huskies and finish an undefeated season. Hawaii, led by the five touchdown passes of Colt Brennan --- the final one coming with 44 seconds to put the Warriors ahead for the first time all night --- is likely headed to the Sugar Bowl, the first BCS appearance in school history.
Conversely, the loss sent UW to a 4-9 record, a game-and-a-half worse than a year ago, a season typified by such close-but defeats.
"I was in the end zone, I didn't score the touchdown, and we lost a game we shouldn't have lost,'' said Reece. "I had my hands on it and I don't know what happened after that. No matter how many plays I made all year, that is one that will stick with me forever.''
The Huskies now head home with some wondering if the loss will have any impact on the future of any of the team's coaches. The loss leaves Willingham with an 11-25 record in three years and came on a day when the Huskies were assured of finishing in sole possession of last place in the Pac-10 with Stanford beating Cal.
Rumblings about Willingham have grown of late, but have been even greater about some of the team's defensive coaches, especially after another second-half meltdown.
UW president Mark Emmert was in attendance, getting one last in-person look at the team before he makes a post-season evaluation --- most close to the program figure he will give a public assessment of the program's future in the next few days. Emmert said again at halftime that he needed to see the season play out before commenting.
Asked after the game if he had any doubt he would be the coach next season Willingham simply stared at the questioner and waited for the next question.
Locker said afterward that "we are all behind'' Willingham and the coaching staff.
They played like it early on jumping out to a 21-0 lead less than 10 minutes into the game and quieting an Aloha Stadium crowd of 49,666 that was packed into Aloha Stadium waiting to see the biggest victory in Hawaii history.
UW dominated with its ground game early, running the ball on 20 straight plays at one point and finishing with 130 rushing yards in the first quarter. Hawaii also committed a fourth-down penalty to keep alive UW's first-scoring drive, and a Brennan fumble led to Washington's second score.
But Brennan shook off a shaky start (6-10, 45 yards in the first quarter) to lead Hawaii to three touchdowns in the second quarter, completing his last 17 passes of the first half. UW also added another score in the second quarter, but Hawaii cut the gap to 28-21 with 21 seconds to go in the first half on a 13-yard pass from Brennan to Jones that was initially ruled incomplete before a review.
"That's when I knew we were going to win,'' said Hawaii coach June Jones.
That play was one of four reviews that all went against UW on a night when Husky coaches were left livid over the officiating, often thought to favor the home team here.
"We knew that was coming,'' said UW offensive coordinator Tim Lappano. "We all knew that was coming.''
After the raucous first half, the game was scoreless in the third quarter, each team missing a field goal.
UW's proved critical as Ryan Perkins had a 38-yard attempt blocked with 1:07 left that could have put Washington ahead by 10. UW got into position for the kick after Carl Bonnell replaced Locker for a few plays after Locker had the wind knocked out of him landing on the ball.
But the Huskies were mostly ineffective on offense in the second half, punting on three of their first four drives after 15 yards or less. Hawaii finally tied the game with 8:01 left on a 40-yard Brennan pass to Rivers, who caught four touchdown passes.
UW appeared to have a first down inside the Hawaii 30 when Locker hit Quintin Daniels. But Locker was ruled to have gone over the line of scrimmage (TV replays showed it was close), a call Willingham said "was probably fitting for all the calls that we had all night.'' Locker said later he couldn't tell.
Hawaii took over at its own 24 with 4:15 left and drove for the winning score, which came on a second-and-goal play from the 5.
Jones said he had initially called a run but Brennan changed it to a pass after seeing UW in man coverage. "I've got the most talented receiving corps in the country,'' said Brennan, who finished 42-50 for 442 yards. "People can't play us man-to-man.''
With the crowd going crazy, UW's prospects seemed bleak. But Locker hit tight end Michael Gottlieb for 25 yards then Reece for 49 yards down the left sideline with 20 seconds left putting the ball at the Hawaii 4. Locker lost two yards on a run before the futile final play.
Reece later took all the blame saying "I apologize to the city of Seattle for that one'' though Locker also said he could have thrown the ball a little better.
Willingham said in his radio comments later that he would have gone for two.
Standing in a hallway underneath the stadium with the roar of Hawaii's celebration still audible, Lappano said he thought the season was a step in the right direction, even if the final record didn't show it.
"I think we've made a lot of progress,'' he said. "This program's a lot better now that it was when we got here. It is. I know there aren't enough wins yet, but I think we've done some pretty good things. … We played a good football team in here. Some people thought we were going to get blown out of there, and we played out tails off for the most part.''
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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