A play here, a play there

HONOLULU - Marcel Reece had the ball in his hands, and then it was gone. Just like that. The game, the season, his career - over in an instant. In the time it took Hawai'i's Ryan Mouton to sprint back toward the Warriors' bench, reality sunk in - it was another opportunity gone astray.

"This was a real disappointment because our young men played a heck of a football game," Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham said of Hawai'i's 35-28 win over the Huskies Saturday night at Aloha Stadium. "And it's that old circumstance of - you make one more play, you win the football game."

One more play. One more play.

Where have we heard this before?

"Did we ever get blown out? No," an adamant Tim Lappano told reporters after the game. "There's no quitters here. They played hard every game. And I know people are going to say we've been saying the same thing for the last 11, 12, 13 weeks.

"We'll turn the corner. We will."

But the Washington Offensive Coordinator was right about one thing. For all the talk about lack of consistency from the Huskies, the final results have been startlingly similar. They've had the lead in eight of the 13 games they've played in (they were up 21-0 in this game), yet have been outscored 224-163 in the second half this year, 139-94 in the fourth quarter.

"A play here, a play there," Willingham said.

"When you lose a game, you're always wanting to make one more play to make a difference in the game," added linebackers coach Chris Tormey. "Our guys battled, but just came up short.

"That's been the theme. Seven-point loss here, seven-point loss against Washington State, seven-point loss to Arizona, three-point loss to USC, six-point loss to Oregon State. You can see how close we are. We just needed to make a key play at a key situation to make the difference."

Unfortunately, Mouton doesn't play for Washington. The nickel back for Hawai'i came up with the key interception in the Huskies' end zone after UW quarterback Jake Locker had driven Washington down to the three-yard line. Locker connected with Marcel Reece for a huge chunk of that yardage - 49, to be exact - but couldn't come up with the big play for six when it mattered most.

And it looked like he should have been able to make the play.

"I thought it was a touchdown," Lappano said.

And for a split-second, it probably was. Just like the split-second where Locker's key third-down conversion to Quintin Daniels in the fourth quarter gave Washington a first down, until it was ruled Locker stepped past the line of scrimmage, making it an illegal forward pass.

"You hate to have your team play a game like they played and have some things surrounding them shape this game," Willingham said. "That makes me angry, because the game shouldn't be like that."

Was Willingham referring to the WAC officiating crew? Probably. "They were tackling our defensive linemen three-quarters of the night," Lappano added with a sarcastic smirk. "It was pretty unbelievable."

But even the Washington coaches knew that some home cooking couldn't be used as an excuse. Heck, they even understood that their delayed flight and the hot and humid conditions didn't cost them the game. "The truth is, we didn't do well enough," Willingham said. "We didn't do well enough offensively, we didn't do well enough defensively."

"I thought we played really well in the first half," Lappano said. "Overall, we answered their scores. We just needed to keep trading scores, but you could feel the momentum. We just didn't make enough plays."

So all of this begs the inevitable question - how much more time should be given to a staff that has been at Washington three years and has a .327 winning percentage to show for it?

Willingham was asked that very question Saturday night. He was asked if he expects to be coaching Washington in 2008

Silence. Next question.

A word here, a word there would have made all the difference. And coaches all over the country understand one thing to be true; they work in a results-oriented business in a world of some of the most intensely-competitive people around.

And in the case of Washington football, the bottom line is haunting this coaching staff like a bad dream.

"That's half the problem with Washington," Lappano said. "The turnover - there's no continuity or consistency. It's a revolving door when you do that kind of stuff. If we had inherited a group with a lot of draft picks, that's one thing. I think we're really close, and the recruiting shows that. We played a good football team and a lot of people thought we were going to get blown out of here and we played our tails off for the most part."

But is close good enough?

"I think we've made some improvement," Lappano added. "We've recruited some really good football players - we're 18th in the country right now and we've got three or four known guys that are going to commit to us and that'll put us down probably lower than 15. I think we've made a lot of progress. I know the program is a lot better off now than when it was when we got in here. I know there's not enough wins yet, but I think we've done a lot of good things."

And regardless of what the powers that be do, it's not going to stop the staff from going about their business. "I have no time to reflect on anything," Lappano said. "I've got to go recruit some guys."

And after a day off he'll be on a plane to the Bay Area, ready to visit recruits' homes on Tuesday and Wednesday.

So the beat goes on for Tyrone Willingham and his Washington staff. But after another game of 'A play here, a play there', what does the future hold?

"You never know in this business," Lappano said.


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