Huskies Lament Missed Chances

SOUTH BEND, IND. - Touchdown Jesus was right there, hands outstretched. With time running down in the fourth quarter of a crazy shootout with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Washington's Chris Polk appeared to launch his body over the goal line for a touchdown. It would have put the Huskies up two scores.

But Jesus apparently had other plans, as the play was overturned - Polk's knee apparently down at the one-yard line.

It wasn't the first time either team was at the mercy of decisions made outside the football field. On the Huskies' first drive of the game, Polk appeared to lose the ball when Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o knocked the ball away, and another linebacker, Robert Blanton, recovered it.

Not so fast. Polk's knee was subsequently rule down before the fumble. The Huskies held onto the ball and UW's Jake Locker called his own number from five yards out to give the visitors a quick lead.

The fates appeared to smile on the Huskies one more time when it appeared Polk, who finished the game with a career-high 136 yards, had given Washington an insurmountable lead with a six-yard dash into Notre Dame's end zone, before having the play downed at the one via review. Notre Dame held fast for the next three plays, and while UW Head Coach Steve Sarkisian thought about going for it on fourth-and-goal right there, the Huskies needed points.

He had already gone for it one time earlier in the game, and three straight Locker runs wasn't enough to cross the plane.

Erik Folk's kick was true, but Ronnie Fouch was roughed by Irish nose tackle Ian Williams, so Sarkisian did what any coach would do in that situation - he took the points off the board and took his chances with four more shots from the one. Again, the Huskies could not break through Notre Dame's resilient goal-line defense, and had to settle for another Folk field goal to put them up five.

The momentum having swung, Touchdown Jesus was waiting for Notre Dame with open arms. And while the Huskies certainly played their guts out to tie the game and send it to overtime (after it looked like the whole Notre Dame team had helped running back Robert Hughes into the end zone for an Irish two-point conversion), it felt like Washington had taken their full allotment of opportunities. There just wasn't going to be any more in Locker's bag of tricks, especially after he had escaped with a reversal of a Kyle McCarthy apparent interception that allowed the Huskies Erik Folk to tie the game at 30 with six seconds left on the clock.

The Notre Dame Head Coach, Charlie Weis, wasn't as confident heading into extra time. The junior signal-caller for the Huskies, now considered one of the top picks for the 2010 draft, found D'Andre Goodwin right near the goal-line and Goodwin had the ball.

Then Kyle McCarthy and Harrison Smith arrived at the Huskies' receiver and hit him hard enough to cause Goodwin's helmet to pop off. The ball bounced high in the air and then landed solemnly on the wet turf while Goodwin had to fight tooth and nail for his sanity for a couple of minutes. Trainers and players tended to him as the rest of Notre Dame Stadium were celebrating a hard-fought win.

As much as the Huskies had it during the game, their luck ran out when they needed it most. "It wouldn't have surprised me to see that ball go to someone, the way the game had been going," Weis said afterward. "There was no one happier than me to see that ball hit the ground."

"It was a great college football game for everybody," Sarkisian said of the 37-30 overtime loss. "Obviously it's frustrating to have an opportunity like we had in the fourth quarter to make it a two-score game and we couldn't do it.

"The bottom line is that this game came down to two opportunities to score touchdowns from the one-yard line on two separate occasions and came away with three points."

And that's something Sarkisian knows luck won't cure. As hard and as valiantly as Washington played, it was another game where they could have dictated the outcome. They had everything within their control, and ironically it was the same thing they had done to Notre Dame's offense that crushed their hopes.

"We knew they were going to move the ball," Sarkisian said of the Irish. "We had to create turnovers and we had to hold them to field goals, not touchdowns, in the red zone. Our defense gave us an opportunity to win the game, no doubt."

But anything the Huskies did, the Irish did just a little better. Locker's 314 total yards didn't look as good compared to the 390 of Jimmy Clausen in a much-hyped duel.

The Huskies' defense held the Fighting Irish to five field goals, equalling the school record. Four of them were under 35-yards, meaning they held Notre Dame touchdown-less inside their own 20.

"Our whole philosophy is we bend, don't break," said senior linebacker Joshua Gage. "No matter what happens, we think 'next play, next play'. Never let them get the edge."

Washington knocked on Notre Dame's door three different times with first-and-goals inside the 10 - twice from the one-yard line - and came up with just three points.

With 1:20 left in the game, Clausen connected with 6-foot-6 Kyle Rudolph on a fade over the Huskies Quinton Richardson to get ND within two points. And he did it with Touchdown Jesus looking on, just over the rise.

Ball game.

"I've never seen guys get tackled that close to the goal-line that many times," Sarkisian said. "Maybe some frustration set in on my part or on our kids' part to make it a mindset thing. We did some things to get to that point, and we have a great belief in our quarterback. We should. He's a tremendous player and athlete. We sneaked twice in a row and the first one was so close that we almost challenged it."

But a lack of a jumbotron at Notre Dame Stadium meant the UW coaches were at the mercy of the referees, and ultimately themselves. They had to trust their execution at critical points, which meant the game was squarely on the shoulders of Locker.

And just like the wet, wild, wacky nature of the game itself, no one who has seen Locker play the past three years would think he'd ever get shut out that many times from close range. Punching the ball in from inside the five has been one of his biggest calling cards.

"Anytime you get into overtime, it's about execution," Sarkisian said. "It's not just one play, but a series of plays. We didn't, in my opinion, didn't execute the way we had been performing in the second half. We need to stick to our plan of just playing football.

"When you have the ball first and goal on the one, you should be scoring touchdowns. And we weren't able to do it."


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