Willingham doesn't sugar-coat it

Moments after Air Force had defeated Washington at Qwest Field Saturday, the Huskies were scattered all over the field. Corey Williams was stretched out on the field right beside the Air Force sideline after coming up dry on a last-play hail-mary from Isaiah Stanback. Some players, like Stanback - ran in with their heads up. Others looked noticeably dejected.

"We had a great opportunity to win, but we let it slip through our fingers," Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham said after the 20-17 comeback win by the Falcons. "We did some good things, but not enough good things. The team that wins does more good things."

"Give the University of Washington a lot of credit," added Air Force Head Coach Fisher DeBerry. "They've been through a lot of adversity and a lot of injuries. Coach Willingham and his staff did an outstanding job in getting his team ready to play.

"It was a whale of a college football game."

That team, at least for 60 minutes on Saturday, was Air Force. For 55 minutes, it appeared that that Huskies - coming off a 1-10 season in 2004 - just might pull out the victory. With just under 11 minutes left in the game, Washington was up by 11 and feeling pretty good about themselves.

But Willingham knew it was a trap.

"I've been around too long for that," he said when asked if he was feeling comfortable at that point. "My biggest concern was with the players. When you have a team that hasn't had a lot of success, they start to get giddy. And that's the equivalent of a letdown. We needed to find a way to stay on point."

And that's when lightning in a bottle struck, in the form of an 84-yard completion from Adam Fitch to Othello, Washington native Greg Kirkwood. Kirkwood beat Washington safety Dashon Goldson on the play. "We went for the strip, which allowed the receiver to avoid the tackler and there was no one there to assist," said Willingham.

In hindsight, it's easy to now second-guess Willingham's decision to go for it on fourth-and-two at the Air Force 18. Up 3-0 at that point, the two teams swapped time-outs while each team strategized. Meanwhile, Washington placekicker Evan Knudson was a few yards out on the field, warming up his leg.

Isaiah Stanback's pass to Anthony Russo netted one yard, and the Falcons took over. "At the time we wanted to take a look at it," Willingham said of the choice to go for it rather than kick.

Ultimately, it was the Falcons' seemingly never-ending drives that took their toll on Washington's defense.

"I think the time the defense spent on the field had an impact," said Willingham.

So what of the positives? "I think the fact that they faught hard, kept coming and kept trying to do the things we asked them to do was a positive," said Willingham. "I told them the truth, and the truth is, we came close but you don't get anything by being close."

He was also certainly vindicated for his choice of starting quarterback. Junior Isaiah Stanback was 19-27 for 242 yards and one touchdown. He also made smart choices when running the ball and with his overall decision-making.

"I think he managed the game pretty well, but one of the criteria for him and for all our players is to try and find a way to win, and we didn't do that," said Willingham, matter-of-factly. "We wanted to take the pressure off with the quick passing game. I thought he did every phase of it very well."

"The quarterback far exceeded expectations," DeBerry said of Stanback's work. "Coach Willingham, his staff and the Washington fans have a lot to look forward to with that young man leading their team."

Willingham was also somewhat benevolent when asked about his rush attack. Led by Louis Rankin's 112 yards, the Huskies netted a total of 129 yards on 34 carries. "At times it was good and at times we let it slip back," he said. "It wasn't good enough to win the ball game."

While Brandon Ala was the only player Willingham named when it came to post-game injuries, it was the blows to Washington's secondary that ended up costing the Huskies. "We took some hits in the secondary," said Willingham. "We lost C.J. Wallace for a period of time and that was big because he's a leader in there. And we knew that was going to be an area that would be stressed because of the option."

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