Washington coach Tyrone Willingham needed only six words to sum up the Huskies' just-completed 4-9 football season: "A play here, a play there."
That also was a fitting summary of Washington's season-ending game: a 35-28 loss to Hawaii on Saturday night at sold-out Aloha Stadium.
The Huskies took a 21-0 lead after their first three possessions. However, Hawaii pulled even midway through the fourth quarter and took their first lead on a Colt Brennan-to-Ryan Grice-Mullen pass from 5 yards out with 44 seconds left.
The Huskies used those remaining seconds to march inside the Hawaii 10. However, on a second and goal, Jake Locker threw to Marcel Reece in the end zone. The ball reached its target, but the ball popped out of Reece's grasp and was intercepted.
"It was a tough game," Locker said. "It wasn't really that last play that it came down to. We didn't score in the second half. Our defense gave us the opportunity to win the game, and we didn't take advantage of it."
One play later, the Warriors and their fans were celebrating an undefeated regular season and their expected invitation to the first BCS bowl game in school history.
Washington was left to deal with one more game that got away.
"This was a real disappointment because our young men played a heck of a football game," Willingham said. "It's that old football circumstance that one more play and we win a football game. We just did not make the one more play."
Although there were many others, most obvious play that wasn't made was that last throw to Reece. And in the blur and disappointment, he seemed uncertain exactly how it played out.
"It's always disappointing when you're not able to hold onto a pass as a receiver," he said. "That's our job. No matter where the ball is or what the defender does, the receiver has to catch the ball. …
All I know is I was in the end zone, we didn't score the touchdown, and we lost a game that we shouldn't have lost."
Had Reece hung on, Willingham had decided to go for an all-or-nothing two-point conversion.
Washington took control early by forcing turnovers and dominating on the ground. Twenty of UW's first 21 plays were runs.
Hawaii eventually adjusted enough to slow the scoring, but Washington still ran for 279 yards. Tailback Louis Rankin ran for 145 yards, giving him a season-total of 1,294 yards, fifth most in school history. Locker, ran for 76 yards, leaving him 14 short of the 1,000-yard mark.
As expected, Hawaii countered through the air. Quarterback Colt Brennan completed 42 of 50 passes for 442 yards and five touchdowns. During one stretch, he completed a school-record 20 consecutive passes.
But his biggest pass was one of the shortest – the 5-yard out that proved to be the game winner.
"What a win," UH coach June Jones said. "It hasn't soaked in yet."
While the Warriors celebrated what they consider the biggest win in school history, Washington is left to deal with another long off-season after having finished alone in the basement of the Pacific-10 Conference.
When Willingham was asked if he expects to be back for his fourth season, he answered with nothing but icy silence.
However, offensive coordinator Tim Lappano and several players spoke up for Willingham and the staff, saying they deserve another chance.
Given that chance, Willingham said he believes his team can get over the hump.
"The key is the confidence to get over it: the confidence and the ability to make plays," he said. "When you have that, then we make those catches, we make those throws, we make those runs, we make the blocks. All of a sudden now you're looking at a football team that doesn't come close but finds a way to get over the top and win those games."