LAS VEGAS — The sentiment voiced Saturday by members of the University of Washington football team echoed the words they used after the Apple Cup.
“Frustrating,” Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian said.
“Disappointing,” linebacker John Timu said.
“It hurts,” wide receiver Kasen Williams said.
Washington lamented defeat for the second time in as many games, though the Huskies never had a handle on Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl game the way it did the Apple Cup. There were other issues in the Huskies’ narrow 28-26 loss to 20th-ranked Boise State before 33,217 at Sam Boyd Stadium. Issues that even an amazing day from running back Bishop Sankey couldn’t help. The sophomore tailback rushed for a UW bowl-game record 205 yards, had another 74 receiving and was named the bowl’s most vaulable player.
“I am disappointed and feeling a lot of mixed emotions going on,” Sankey said. “The MVP trophy doesn’t really mean as much if you come out the loser.”
The Huskies were a loser in their second consecutive bowl game under Sarkisian and finished with a 7-6 record for the third consecutive season. Sarkisian is 26-25 since taking over the Huskies prior to the 2009 season.
Washington led just once in the game. Trailing 18-3 in the second quarter, the Huskies mounted a swift rally to close the gap to 18-17 at the half. The teams traded touchdowns before Washington took its only lead, 26-25, when Travis Coons kicked a 38-yard field goal with 4:09 remaining to play.
Disaster struck on the ensuing kickoff, a short line drive that didn’t have the hangtime to allow the Huskies to cover it well.
Boise’s Shane Williams-Rhodes fielded the kick on his on 11-yard line and returned it 47 yards to Washington’s 42. The Broncos were in business, and if they couldn’t drive for a touchdown, they needed to go just a short distance to get into field-goal range.
On that drive, the Huskies failed to hold Boise State on fourth-and-1. It was the Broncos’ second fourth-down conversion in the game. When the drive finally did stall, Boise State’s Michael Frisina kicked a 27-yard field goal, giving the Broncos a 28-26 lead with 1:16 remaining.
Seventy-six seconds — one last opportunity for UW quarterback Keith Price to try to resurrect his careening season.
Price threw three consecutive short passes to drag Washington along. He spiked the ball to kill the clock with 23 seconds to go. On third-and-6 from the Boise 49-yard line, Price looked over the middle, fired and was intercepted for the 13th time this season.
It was the kind of game Sarkisian envisioned, just not the kind of ending he liked.
“We knew that it would come down to the last possession or two of the game,” he said. “To their credit, they found a way to win the ball game in the end.”
Price could not find a way to win it. On that final interception, he said he never saw the safety and thought Cody Bruns was running free. Price finished the game 20-for-39 for 242 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions and now looks ahead to next season, which could find the Huskies pondering their options at quarterback.
If Sarkisian opens the quarterback competition next spring, Price said he would “accept” that.
“I mean, that’s not my concern,” Price said. “That’s coach’s decision. If he decided to do it, I wouldn’t be mad at him. I can’t control that, I can only control myself. I’m not afraid of competition at all.”
Price’s game Saturday was as uneven as his 2012 season has been. His 6-yard pass to Austin Seferian-Jenkins yanked Washington to within 25-23 with 2:28 to play in the third quarter. His throw on the two-point conversion attempt was knocked away.
He guided Washington on a 14-play, 76-yard drive leading to Coons’ field goal and the short-lived lead. Coons missed a 41-yard kick wide right with early in the fourth quarter.
Down 18-3 with just 5:25 remaining until the half, Washington sprinted back into the game. Sankey scored from 26 yards out after a 39-yard completion to Williams, during which Williams stiff-armed his way for extra yardage. The Huskies trailed 18-10 after a sluggish first half.
Another quick score followed. Price cut back, spun and reached to the end zone to narrowly score with just three seconds remaining in the half. Despite turning the ball over twice, missing several tackles and Price being erratic, he was just 6-for-18 in the first half, the Huskies were down only 18-17 at the break.
The main reason was Sankey. He ran for 130 yards in the first half and caught two passes for 48 yards, one of which was a 42-yard gain. He finished with 30 carries for 205 yards and six receptions for 74 yards.
Price’s second consecutive poor throw during the opening series of the second quarter, he missed an open Bruns the play before, was intercepted by Boise cornerback Jamar Taylor. Boise’s 17th interception of the season came after Price pumped toward Williams and threw short. It was an easy interception for Taylor.
Boise quickly trekked down the field and kicked a field goal for a 12-3 lead with 9:00 to go in the second quarter.
Things became more dire for Washington on Boise’s next possession. Boise State went from third-and-14 at its own 8 to in the end zone three plays later following the Broncos’ first trick-play pass of the day.
Boise quarterback Joe Southwick stepped up and completed an 18-yard pass to Matt Miller. Southwick hit Aaron Burks for a 40-yard completion. The next play, Boise went to a trick play it had been setting up earlier. Southwick threw into the flat to Potter, who settled and threw to Holden Hoff down the left hash. Huff caught the pass, Justin Glenn tried to drag him down, but Huff rolled over the top of Glenn for the score. Boise had run the play twice prior in the half without throwing.
The Broncos went for two, but Washington stuffed the sweep to the right. Still, the Broncos were in full control, up 18-3 with 5:25 remaining in the second quarter.
Boise scored its first touchdown on a 16-yard Southwick pass with 15 seconds left in the first quarter. Huskies tackle Danny Shelton blocked the extra point attempt. The Broncos opened the scoring with a 34-yard field goal from Frisina. His previous season-long was 30 yards.
Now, Washington heads into the offseason with same record as the prior two years, quarterback questions and consecutive bowl losses.
“Our inability to finish is pretty blaring,” Sarkisian said. “Obviously, it will be a point of emphasis for us on the offseason.”
Associated Press contributed to this story.