Players reflect on emotional loss

In what turned out to be another lost season for the Washington football team, the Husky players reflected on their second Apple Cup defeat to rival Washington State in as many seasons and the aftermath of a game that slipped through the Huskies' fingers with a little over a minute remaining.

"We lost," sophomore WR Craig Chambers said following the Huskies 26-22 defeat to the Cougars. "I grew up watching this game. There is no other game that I would rather want to win overall than against Washington State. This is the kind of game that can make or break your season, so they broke ours this year."

Chambers finished the day with three receptions for 17 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown on a fade route that is fast becoming one of his specialties.

"I just saw that I had man coverage, no safety on the top," Chambers said. "(QB Isaiah Stanback) gave me a hot-route to a fade. He threw it and I came down with it."

Stanback struggled all day against the Cougar man-to-man defense as he was harassed most of the game on delayed blitzes from the outstanding set of Cougar linebackers. Stanback finished the day 12 of 26 for 163 yards and the one touchdown to Chambers. He also ran 12 times for 43 yards, far short of his 96 yards rushing during last week's win over Arizona.

"(The Cougar defense) was nothing different. We saw the same thing two weeks ago," Stanback said.

"They pretty much tried to attack us how Oregon State did, with blitzes and stuff," RB James Sims said echoing Stanback's assessment. "When they started doing that, we just tried to capitalize on those things by moving the ball towards the outside and more misdirection and things like that."

The WSU linebacking-trio Scott Davis, Will Derting and Steve Dildine combined for 14 tackles and while the Cougars only registered two sacks – one by safety Eric Frampton and the other by defensive end Adam Braidwood – they never let Stanback break free for big-gainers that could keep the Cougar defense on their heals.

Emotions always come into play in college football games, but they are even more raw when it comes to rivalry games. The Huskies lost their second straight Apple Cup for the first time since the Dawgs lost back-to-back games in 1972 and 1973 and it stung the players more than they let on.

"It was emotional," Stanback said. "It was a big game – everyone knows that. It is emotional for people who aren't even playing in it, so imagine how emotional it is for people who are."

Turnovers also play a role in rivalry games as players try to make plays and sometimes lack the concentration needed to hang onto the ball. Senior walk-on J.R. Wolfork was the beneficiary of a lack of concentration by Washington State punt-returner Trandon Harvey.

"They ran a double-team on me," Wolfork said noting the Cougars also doubled the other gunner Durrell Moss. "Durrell did a great job of getting down there, beating the double-team and putting pressure on the returner. He deserves a lot of credit for making that play.

"The returner took his eyes off the ball for a moment and he dropped it. The next thing I knew I saw the ball and I was like ‘I'm getting this ball' and I got it and it felt great. It was amazing."

Later on in the game, at a pivotal point, junior WR Sonny Shackelford, who had dropped back to return a punt by WSU senior P Kyle Basler and was stripped of the ball at the Husky 39 yard-line that was eventually recovered by LB Brian Hall.

Shackelford had a big game himself, ending up three yards short of his career-high with 121 yards receiving on four receptions, including a 65-yard touchdown pass from RB Kenny James.

"We were running a halfback option pass and I just ran to the open field," Shackelford said. "Kenny saw where I was going and let the ball go and I just went up and got it. It just so happened that they didn't tackle me, so I ran away."

Senior LB Even Benjamin was almost unstoppable in his last career game as a Dawg, posting 12 solo tackles, two assists, one tackle-for-loss and one sack. Even though individually he can be proud of his performance, this loss seemed to hit harder than most.

"The whole game I thought we played well," a sullen Benjamin said following the game. "Offensively, defensively and special teams I thought we played well. We just let it slip away at the end. We had the chance to make some plays and finish it out, but we didn't and they did."

Finishing the game out was Harvey, redeeming himself following his special team's gaffe by catching a bubble-screen and taking it 39-yards for the winning touchdown with only 1:25 remaining on the clock.

"It was a quick throw left," Harvey said. "I looked at (Prator) and I said, ‘Greg, throw that block for me and I'm going to try and score.' The Huskies weren't set, their defense wasn't set and Brink was trying to hurry it up.

"All I know is he threw the ball and everything just went blank as I was running. I just caught the ball and kept running. The only reason I stopped was because I was about to run into the band."

As the Huskies look back on a 2-9 season, they also must look forward. With the coaching staff heading into their second full offseason and the same system in place for two years in a row – the first time that has happened since 2002 – Husky players were adamant about what their focus will be this offseason.

"We just need to finish games," Chambers said. "We lost a lot of close games this season, so our main focus for next year is to just finish games. We need to look at the films and learn what we need to do to win the game. I don't think there is anything else we can do.

"Also, it's more of a mentality. We have to want it bad enough. Some of us didn't want it bad enough. We have to fix that."

Stanback, for his part, was a little more all-encompassing.

"We have to work on everything. There is nothing specific. We have to work on everything. We have to get better at every phase of the game."

Shackelford agreed.

"We have to work on everything – from A to Z," Shackelford said matter-of-factly. "I mean from blocking to passing, to running, to tackling, to shedding blockers, we have to start at the top and work our way to the bottom. We are only as strong as the weakest link. We have to start at what we are the worst at and work our way up." Top Stories