PASADENA, Calif. – Even coach Steve Sarkisian felt at a loss for words, trying to get his mind around all the close games the Washington Huskies had found a way to lose.
The latest one came Saturday – a 24-23 loss to fellow hard-luck performer UCLA in front of 72,924 at The Rose Bowl.
Snake-bitten? Nah. Unlucky? Luck is what you make, Sarkisian has always said.
Utterly frustrating? Not up for debate from the first-year UW coach.
And as he paused to gather a few thoughts, his postgame address wasn’t the usual we’ll-be-ready-to-fight-next-week words of encouragement. Not this time. It was more of a eulogy for his seniors, who won’t be around when this thing does get turned around.
“When you get so close, so many times, and you just can’t finish it, it’s disappointing for all of us,” Sarkisian said. “I honestly feel for our seniors – the Donald Butlers of the world, the Daniel Te’o-Nesheims, the guys that give us something back and are part of an amazing transformation of a football culture (at the UW).
“It stings for everybody, but it really stings for them because, in their opinion, this is their moment. You always want guys to go out on a high, so hopefully we can do that for them the last three weeks and close this thing out for them the way we know we can.”
At 3-6, the Huskies probably aren’t going to be going to any bowl game this season.
At 3-6, and currently on an 11-game road skid dating back to 2007, they know their time isn’t now.
If it does come, it will come down the line.
“It’s hard to swallow,” Butler said. “Then again … you can’t dwell on the past.”
Butler did his darndest to get this game turned around, even though he was booed for it by the home crowd.
For one of the few times this season, UCLA found an offensive groove. Quarterback Kevin Prince was behind it, going 13-of-17 for 212 yards in just over a quarter-and-a-half of action.
His completions went to nine different Bruins.
But often when scrambling quarterbacks try to take on a linebacker, they come out on the losing end.
Prince had the Bruins in position to grab the lead before halftime when he took off on an 8-yard scamper. He reached the UW 20. But he didn’t slide soon enough as Butler closed in and struck him helmet-first in the facemask, snapping the quarterback’s head backward.
“Like I said, nothing was intentional. Hopefully he’s OK,” Butler said. “Definitely whenever you can take a shot on the quarterback, you’re going to take it. That’s what I did.”
The shot knocked Prince out of the game with concussion-like symptoms. And it was the shot that easily could have not only changed the Huskies’ outlook completely, it could have extended the team’s faint postseason hopes.
The Huskies recovered a Johnathan Franklin fumble to start the second half, and turned it into a 23-14 advantage on Jake Locker’s second touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse, this time from 34 yards out.
Things were working, albeit precariously. The defense was giving up lots of yards, but the Huskies forced five UCLA turnovers, which should have been more than enough to get Locker and the offense more points.
But, again, red-zone opportunities became three Erik Folk field goals. And the Bruins did not go away, getting a good-bounce touchdown catch from Terrance Austin following Kearse’s score, and a 27-yard field goal from Kai Forbath early in the fourth quarter to grab a 24-23 lead.
Locker led the UW offense to the UCLA 15 where it stalled, and Folk came on with 10:41 to go to notch his fourth field goal. Only this time, his 38-yard offering never got higher than 15 feet off the ground, and hooked badly left of the target.
“Just missed it,” Sarkisian winced.
One more chance arose late, and the Huskies reached the Bruins’ 46 in the final minute. Locker found Kearse in one-on-one coverage against UCLA’s worst defensive back – Sheldon Price. The pass was high but too far inside – enough where Price got his paw on it, and deflected it right to the hands of ball-hawking safety Rahim Moore, who notched his NCAA-best eighth interception this season with 54 seconds to go.
“We had a chance to win, and didn’t,” said Locker, whose stream of few-word answers told the story of his overall disgust with all the close defeats – five of them still winnable late in the fourth quarter.
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442