Nov. 19, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
CORVALLIS, Ore. - Keith Price was dragging his leg, vowing to start next week's Apple Cup.
Cort Dennison was shaking his head as he walked alone to the team bus, saying "coaches can only do so much. We need to rise up as players."
And Nick Montana was in tears.
The effort, the want-to are as strong as ever. The play making is not. And that's why the Huskies headed home from Oregon State Saturday night as low as they've been in the three, mostly revitalizing years under coach Steve Sarkisian.
"The best way to describe it is frustrated," Sarkisian said as the last one coming out of UW's locker room following a 38-21 loss to the Beavers at cold, gray and miserable Reser Stadium.
The Huskies (6-5, 4-4 Pac-12) squandered chance after chance in their third consecutive defeat and fourth loss in five games.
"It feels so bad," Sarkisian said. "But we were so close. I think that's why we are so frustrated."
Price's gritty entrance and rallying touchdown pass in the fourth quarter on essentially one leg couldn't save them.
Converting any of three turnovers the Huskies forced in the second half into points - any points - likely would have.
"This game was there for us to win," Sarkisian said. "Unfortunately we were not able to make the plays to make that happen. We've got to figure out why. That's going to be a big challenge for us as we head into the Apple Cup."
So is turning around the psyche of a team that thought it was on its way to a memorable comeback victory when Price, emerging as the undisputed leader of team, came off the bench on his badly sprained knee in the fourth quarter.
"Coach said I was the worst-case scenario," Price said.
This was exactly that.
Barking in the huddle and yelling primal screams like he did during his wondrous start to the season in September, Price threw for a fourth-quarter touchdown pass of 20 yards to Devin Aguilar to get previous stalled UW within 31-21. Then UW running back Jesse Callier forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, with Cole Sager covering it at the Oregon State 17 with 7:42 left.
"Oh, yeah, we get into the end zone right there, and I think we win the game," Price said.
On the next play Price threw an in route at the goal line that freshman Kasen Williams, a former basketball star who deftly uses his body to shield defenders, briefly cradled inside his arms. But Oregon State's Ryan Murphy shocked Williams by leaping over his inside shoulder and wrestling the ball away for the game-changing interception at the 1.
"He makes that play nine out of 10 times," Sarkisian said of his true freshman.
Price still couldn't believe the play after the game.
"I definitely though Kasen caught the ball. I thought it was a touchdown," Price said.
The Beavers then decisively drove 99 yards for the game's final score.
Chris Polk ran 25 times for 109 yards, extending his school record with his 19th 100-yard rushing day. But after Polk ran 12 times in the opening quarter he did so inconsistently the rest of the day against the 11th-ranked run defense in the Pac-12. Montana tried to throw Washington back into it instead.
He made his first career start for Price, who sprained his knee last weekend at USC and didn't practice all week. The redshirt freshman and son of Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana completed 11 of 21 passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns. Both came in the first half to Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
The tight end dropped what would likely have been a third TD catch from Montana. With no Beavers within 20 yards of him at the Oregon State 40 in the third quarter and OSU leading 17-14, Montana's throw rattled between both arms and then off the 6-foot-6 tight end's leg to the turf.
"It's really tough to have that opportunity and you don't capture that opportunity. They don't come to you like that very often," Seferian-Jenkins said, gamely owing up afterward. "It really hurts personally. It's just tough. Really tough."
Montana threw one interception, a late pass outside well after Jermaine Kearse's cut on his route. He often looked tentative throwing downfield, allowing defenders to close on receivers who were open earlier in plays.
"Didn't go the way I wanted it to. I need to be a lot better," a choked-up Montana said, tears returning inside his reddened eyes.
"I don't like losing. We work so hard, all of these guys ..."
Sean Mannion repeatedly beat UW's late-arriving blitzes and soft pass coverage with crossing routes as the Beavers (3-8, 3-5) converted 8 of 14 third downs and 2 of 2 fourth downs into first downs. Mannion, a freshman, was 26 of 37 for 339 yards and two scoring throws even though Washington sometimes sent three blitzers after him and other times rushed only three to leave eight men in coverage.
On third and 4 at the Oregon State 39 early in the fourth quarter and UW down 3, the Huskies blitzed. Receiver Obum Gwacham ran alone on a crossing route 5 yards downfield, caught the ball and ran 53 more yards to the Washington 3 before any Husky touched him. Jovan Stevenson ran it in on the next play to make it 24-14 Oregon State.
Montana was sacked and lost a fumble on the next scrimmage play. Then John Timu missed Stevenson when he had a tackle chance at the line of scrimmage. Stevenson sped in for a 15-yard touchdown run and the Huskies were suddenly down 31-14.
That's what Dennison meant when he said "coaches can only do so much" -- that he and his defenders have to make the plays when they are they to be made.
"We tried everything. We rushed three. We rushed four. We rushed five. Sometimes we even rushed six," defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. "We had our opportunities. We needed to come up with some plays.
"It falls back on myself," Holt said. "I've got to do a better job making it simpler so they can play faster."
Asked if this was the lowest point in his three seasons since he and Sarkisian left USC to rebuild Washington, Holt nodded his shaved head affirmatively.
"One of them, yeah," he said.
Yet his defense produced chances. Many chances. And for the third consecutive week, the offense wasted them.
Sean Parker intercepted a pass at the Huskies 4 with the score still 17-14 in the third quarter, but UW punted the ball right back. Then John Timu stripped Oregon State tight end Joe Halahuni at the end of a catch and run. Danny Shelton, UW's 340-pound defensive tackle, ran 15 yards down field to recover the fumble at the Oregon State 43.
But Erik Folk missed a 39-yard field goal on the final play of the third quarter to keep Oregon State ahead 17-14 - yet another chance wasted.
"I can't really explain it," Seferian-Jenkins said. "It just really hurts right now."
The Huskies return to Seattle host Washington State (4-7, 2-6) next Saturday in the annual Apple Cup. This time it will be played downtown at CenturyLink Field, with Husky Stadium renovations under way.
The Dawgs have some major, internal reconstruction to do between now and 4:30 p.m. next Saturday.
QUICK HITS: Polk passed Napoleon Kaufman for most rushing attempts in UW history. Polk, a redshirt junior, now has 747 rushes. ... Polk ran on six of the Huskies' first seven plays on the game's opening drive, which ended with Montana throwing 4 yards to a wide-open Seferian-Jenkins in the flat for a touchdown. Polk ran 12 times in the first quarter, which ended with Oregon State leading 14-7. He ran 13 times the rest of the day. Sarkisian said that was because he needed to move the ball quickly down the field via the pass. ... Starting LG Colin Tanigawa left with what Sarkisian says may be a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. The coach called it a "big loss" because of how well the redshirt freshman was playing. ... Price's TD throw was his 26th of the season, two short of Cody Pickett's UW record from 2001.