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Originally published November 7, 2009 at 6:51 PM | Page modified November 7, 2009 at 11:31 PM

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Steve Kelley

Huskies have to learn to finish

Coaches and players made mistake at the end that cost them a victory that was there for the taking against a beatable UCLA team.

Seattle Times staff columnist

PASADENA, Calif. — Finish. Finish. Finish.

That has been coach Steve Sarkisian's mantra since he came to Washington. He has preached this with all the passion of an evangelist. He has taught it as if it were the most important rule in his sport, a commandment on some holy pigskin tablet.

Winning teams finish games the way Washington did in September against USC, and the way it magically did it in October against Arizona.

Finish. Finish. Finish.

On a spectacular fall day, on the floor of the Rose Bowl, the Huskies should have won again. They had the chance to win their first game away from home in more than two calendar years.

They forced five UCLA turnovers. They knocked out Bruins starting quarterback Kevin Prince in the first half. Early in the third quarter they were ahead of UCLA 23-14. The Rose Bowl was as silent as a cemetery. This was Washington's game to finish.

But the Huskies didn't close it out. They were more Brad Lidge than Mariano Rivera. This was the win that got away.

"It was a game we should have won," said Washington running back Chris Polk after the 24-23 Pac-10 football loss.

Winning teams score more than 13 points off the five turnovers they create. They find ways to pressure a third-string quarterback like UCLA's Kevin Craft. Even when UCLA was using seven players to protect Craft in the pocket, Washington should have stopped the Bruins' passing game.

Instead, the offensively challenged Bruins gained 455 yards.

Winning teams make plays in the clutch.

Erik Folk, who has kicked very well all season, must make the 38-yard field goal he missed early in the fourth quarter, a kick that would have given Washington the lead.

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And quarterback Jake Locker absolutely can't throw the soft-toss pass to Jermaine Kearse that UCLA's Rahim Moore intercepted at the UCLA 26 in the game's final minute.

"We're learning how to win, and they're battling for all four quarters," defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. "And we had a chance to win on the last drive. As a coach, that's all you can ask for. Unfortunately, we didn't get it done. So we've got to keep recruiting and keep fighting and keep getting better. And these kids will, because they believe in what we're doing.

"As coaches, you've got to stay positive. We're the role models for the kids, and although sometimes I'm not a great role model, you've got to remember that they're kids and they're going to respond how we respond."

But this loss was different from the five previous losses. This loss can't be blamed on youth. This wasn't about a disparity in talent.

These are the games young players have to win as they learn how to be winners. Win a tight game like this, on the road, and all of the bright lights come on. Lessons taught from last spring all of a sudden are more clearly understood.

But Washington, including its coaching staff, made too many mistakes to beat even UCLA.

"In the future, these games are going to shape and mold who we become," Sarkisian said.

Everyone still is learning in the first year of the new life of Huskies football, including Sarkisian.

Early in the third quarter, UCLA took a 23-21 lead when Craft completed a 29-yard touchdown pass to Terrence Austin.

It appeared as if Austin lost the ball before he rolled into the end zone. Sarkisian should have called a timeout after that play. He should have forced the officials to review the play. But he didn't, and the touchdown stood. It might have cost Washington a win.

"I did [think about calling timeout]," Sarkisian said. "But the rule is that they're supposed to review every play, and if it's close at all, it gets reviewed. I don't know if the guy caught it or not. But I knew we needed all three timeouts. This was not a game that we could afford to burn a timeout just to burn it."

This time, however, Washington got burned because it didn't call a timeout.

"I definitely think we should have won," freshman cornerback Desmond Trufant said. "We were in a great position to win a game."

But, once again, Washington couldn't finish the job.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Huskies' harried finishes
Saturday's loss at UCLA is the Huskies' third this season in the final seconds, with two narrow victories:
Date Score How it ended
Nov. 7 UCLA 24, UW 23 Huskies miss 38-yard FG and have pass intercepted on last two drives.
Oct. 17 Arizona St. 24, UW 17 ASU hits 50-yard TD pass with five seconds left
Oct. 10 UW 37, Arizona 33 Mason Foster returns interception off receiver's foot for TD with 2:37 left
Oct. 3 Notre Dame 37, UW 30 OT Irish get 1-yard run in OT after UW fails to score from 1 four times
Sept. 19 UW 16, USC 13 Erik Folk kicks 22-yard FG with three seconds left

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About Steve Kelley

Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
skelley@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2176

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