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A crushing defeat for Huskies — again
Seattle Times staff columnist
Back to dejection. Again.
Back to quarterback calamity. Again.
Back to a season that is now recycling misfortune, churning it with utmost cruelty.
From 4-1 to 4-5, this Washington football team has fallen. It has been a most dramatic losing streak, robbing the Huskies of their starting quarterback, concussing their backup, leaving behind the burden of two overtime defeats and the memory of an upset that dangled 15 yards away.
Games we once considered epic have turned routine for the Huskies. It would be thrilling if there were some variety to the endings. Instead, there is here-we-go-again dread.
Whatever magic Washington had during a 4-1 start is deferring to a harsh lesson in rebuilding now. A 26-23 overtime loss to Arizona State on Saturday sank the Huskies to desperation status.
Their improvement is no longer the main storyline. Their effort is no longer an accepted consolation. We all hear the air seeping from a season that began so promising, and if it cannot be stopped, everything good will seem flat.
"We came out 4-1, and everybody was all excited," wide receiver Sonny Shackelford said. "Then, I don't know what happened. Things just changed for the worse all of a sudden."
Coach Tyrone Willingham described the latest loss as a "disappointing-turned-exciting-turned-disappointing" game. His team looked lost at the beginning, especially on offense. It fell behind 20-6. It watched quarterback Carl Bonnell struggle through a 9-for-23 passing performance. Then, in the fourth quarter, it showed the resiliency and passion that have invigorated this season.
The Huskies were daring. Shackelford threw a 41-yard pass to fellow receiver Anthony Russo to trim the deficit to seven.
They were tough-minded. After Bonnell exited the game with a concussion, Johnny DuRocher, who was the No. 4 quarterback three weeks ago, hit Shackelford for a game-tying score late in the fourth quarter.
If the Huskies could've won this game down two quarterbacks, the victory would've defined their season. They would've been one victory from bowl eligibility, with cotton-candy foe Stanford still on the schedule. We would've remembered this team as being unflappable, like its coach, and Oct. 28, 2006, would've been the irrefutable evidence.
Instead, there was heartache. Again.
This game's lasting image will be of Arizona State tight end Brent Miller wheeling out into the open left side, catching a pass and sprinting into the end zone for the demoralizing, game-winning score.
Back to what-ifs. Again.
"The distance we need to travel, it's so small," linebacker Scott White said. "Maybe five or six plays. That's how close we are."
All rebuilding teams must learn to win, especially in the clutch. And often, the only way to do that is through losing. But this is getting a bit ridiculous, isn't it?
"No, I haven't experienced anything like this," Shackelford said. "It's crazy. Obviously, it's been an emotional roller coaster. I'm just tired of losing. Four in a row? I just want us to get our act together and start winning some games."
How many blows can one team take? Each one gets more painful. Each one gets more difficult to accept and explain.
The Huskies have played well enough to win at least two of their past four games. They were dominated and had no chance at the end in only one of the games, against Oregon State, the day they lost starting quarterback Isaiah Stanback.
Two of the five overtime games in program history have come in the past two weeks. On Saturday, Husky Stadium housed its first overtime game. It was unforgettable, but not pleasantly so.
"The key is, it depends on what you want," Willingham said when asked how the team recovers. "If we desire more, we'll get more."
Even the most determined team can get discouraged from continually drawing the short straw, however. As much as they want to deny it, the Huskies are getting close to the point of a major letdown.
In rebuttal, Willingham pointed to how people thought the USC loss would crush them. But it didn't. Losing to Oregon State and watching Stanback get hurt was to be the end. But it wasn't. And the California loss was supposed to put them "near the grave," he said. But still, they played hard, yet flawed, football again on Saturday.
Only to be rewarded with another dagger.
This team must have some tolerance for pain.
"I think it was the worst this time," Shackelford said. "We knew we played like garbage at the beginning of the game."
Back to the recovery room.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company