UW disappears down the stretch

SEATTLE — The Washington Huskies walked off the field Saturday afternoon shell-shocked, beaten and searching for answers after a sixth consecutive loss.

The faces and posture of the Huskies walking off the field told the story of Washington’s 48-41 loss to Arizona.

After losing five straight to some of the best teams in the country, this was finally a game the Huskies could have won, a chance to get things headed in the right direction. Instead, it was another tough loss, another weekend of disappointment and near-fatal blow to Washington’s fading-by-the-week bowl hopes.

Marcel Reece, the Huskies’ ever-optimistic senior receiver, was the last man off the field, his trademark grin replaced by a look of despair as he walked into the tunnel.

“It’s always tough, and when they keep coming, they get tougher and tougher,” he said.

After playing from behind for so much of the season, the Huskies finally looked like they had a game in control, but much to the shock of the players and the 61,124 in attendance, a 15-point fourth-quarter lead was not enough to hold off the struggling Wildcats.

Washington coach Tyrone Willingham admitted that this loss hurt “An awful lot.”

Turnovers tainted what was otherwise a spectacular day for quarterback Jake Locker and Washington’s offense, and combined with another bad outing for the defense, allowed Arizona to stay within striking distance despite being outgained 495 yards to 381 through the first three quarters.

The Huskies gained 183 yards on their first three drives of the first quarter but managed only seven points because of fumbles by Locker and tailback Louis Rankin.

“We missed our opportunities to put this football game away,” Willingham said. “If you let a team hang around, then eventually it comes back to bite you. This one stings.”

The Huskies led by nine late in the third quarter after Locker scored on a 1-yard run, his second rushing touchdown of the game. After an Arizona three-and-out at the end of the quarter, the Huskies drove for another touchdown and what looked like a comfortable 15-point lead.

Arizona came right back with a five-play, 46-yard scoring drive, however, then got the ball back on another turnover, Washington’s fourth of the game. Locker fumbled trying to hand the ball off to Rankin, giving the Wildcats the ball on the Washington 30. Four plays later, Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama connected with Mike Thomas for a 2-yard touchdown, then the two hooked up again for a game-tying two-point conversion.

After a rare Washington punt — the Huskies punted just three times, all in the second half — Arizona drove 80 yards on 11 plays, burning 5:14 off the clock to take the lead. Again, it was Tuitama to Thomas for the score, this one a 27-yarder on third and 7. Defensive back Roy Lewis was in position to make a play on the ball but mistimed his jump attempting to break up the pass.

Washington got the ball back with 1:55 left but struggled to move down field because of a sack, a holding call and a false start penalty. The Huskies still managed to drive to the Arizona 42 and took a shot at the end zone that was nearly caught by Anthony Russo. The next pass, however, was intercepted by Antoine Cason, ending Washington’s comeback attempt.

For the second straight week, Washington’s defense went from struggling to struggling on a historic level. Last week, Oregon rushed for a school-record 465 yards against the Huskies, and on Saturday, Arizona passed for a school-record 510 yards, also the most ever allowed by the Huskies.

“It’s embarrassing,” defensive tackle Jordan Reffett said. “As a defense, we want to go out there shut people down. And we haven’t been able to do that for a long time.”

Tuitama did most of the embarrassing, completing 38 of 51 passes for 510 yards, five touchdowns and an interception. Three of those scores went to Thomas, who had 10 catches for 165 yards.

Locker’s numbers were impressive as well despite four turnovers. He rushed for a career high 157 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, and passed for 336 and two touchdowns.

“This is obviously one of the worst losses I’ve ever been a part of,” Reffett said.

Contact Herald Writer John Boyle at jboyle@heraldnet.com. For more on University of Washington sports, check out the Huskies blog at heraldnet.com /huskiesblog

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