In the post-game analysis, pain and amazement ran a dead heat among Washington Huskies.
The source of pain was obvious, as the Huskies had just unraveled in a stunning 29-21 loss to Notre Dame in front of a sellout Husky Stadium crowd and a national television audience.
The amazement was at themselves, that they could play 58 minutes of excellent football only to commit a string of mistakes that were both so profound AND untimely.
“It was just amazing, the changes in momentum and expectations,” UW receiver Dave Janoski said.
The plunge was particularly painful because it came from such a height - as all Huskies saw themselves on the threshold of a victory over the keepers of perhaps the nation’s most treasured collegiate football legacy.
“We definitely thought we had the game wrapped up,” Janoski said.
But in the final 2:46, after they had masterfully accumulated a 21-14 lead, the Huskies: had their punter tackled on fourth down, entirely ignored an All-American receiver on a two-point conversion, threw an interception that was returned 76 yards for a touchdown, and lost a fumble on a kickoff.
Consolation could be found in the performance of running back Rashaan Shehee, who rushed for 171 yards in his first start, and in the fact that the non-conference defeat did not affect the Huskies’ standing atop the Pacific-10 Conference standings.
But those were small consolations.
“I think we’re all still in shock, all still in tears,” Huskies defensive end Jason Chorak said. “We just handed it to them and said, here, take it.”
UW coach Jim Lambright was equally devastated, his voice cracking as he answered questions about the collapse.
“This is one of the games you build a program on, and it hurts,” Lambright said. “They have enough good people to beat you and we found a way to help them do that.”
Not at first.
The 15th-ranked Huskies (3-2) played the No. 23 Irish dead even through the first half, with Notre Dame scoring on a 10-yard slant-in pass from Ron Powlus to Derrick Mayes and UW responding with a 1-yard Shehee score - both in the first period. Shehee, a sophomore from Bakersfield, Calif., was getting his start because Leon Neal was out with turf toe. Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s highly touted Powlus (12 for 28, 179 yards) struggled mightily, dramatically underthrowing at least a half-dozen passes. Even Mayes, who set the ND record for career touchdown receptions (20) on Saturday, inexcusably dropped two passes.
UW quarterback Damon Huard (10 for 13, 109 yards) was at his best in a third-quarter drive that put the Huskies ahead 14-7.
With ND at the 7, Powlus seemed to play the Irish out of the game early in the fourth quarter when he inexplicably threw an end zone interception to UW’s Reggie Davis.
But Powlus came back and found Mayes on a 30-yard scoring pass to tie it at 14-14 with 9:40 left in the game.
Shehee, behind a powerful line surge, then took over, rushing for 65 yards in a 77-yard drive that ended with his 23-yard touchdown run.
And when Mayes fumbled the ball away to the Huskies Ink Aleaga with 3:53 left, UW probably began celebrating in the backs of their minds.
When John Wales went back to punt four plays later, though, he bobbled a low snap and was tackled on the Huskies 18.
ND scored four plays later on a 7-yarder by Autry Denson.
Coach Lou Holtz He chose the latter and went for two and was rewarded when Mayes strolled into the end zone unattended and Powlus passed to him to make it 22-21.
“Our zone defense just didn’t widen when the motion man came across,” Lambright said.
UW still had 1:18 to get back into field-goal position, and that appeared to be almost a reality as Huard scrambled 26 yards to the Irish 33.
On the next play, though, ND’s Allen Rossum intercepted a Huard pass and ran it back for a back-breaking TD.
“I don’t know if it was an overthrown ball or it was tipped,” Rossum said. “But it came to me and the only thing I was thinking about was getting to the end zone.”
And on the subsequent kickoff, the Huskies fumbled away their last gasp as John Fiala muffed the kickoff and Notre Dame recovered.
“I think this was big, we can maybe build on this,” Holtz said of the win that moved the Irish to 4-2. “We beat a good football team away from home.”
Notre Dame 29, UW 21
Notre Dame 7 0 0 22 - 29
Washington 7 0 7 7 - 21
ND-Mayes 10 pass from Powlus (Kopka kick)
Wash-Shehee 1 run (Whales kick)
Wash-DeSaussure 13 pass from Huard (Whales kick)
ND-Mayes 30 pass from Powlus (Kopka kick)
Wash-Shehee 22 run (Whales kick)
ND-Denson 7 run (Mayes from Powlus)
ND-Rossum 76 interception return (Kopka kick)
ND Wash First downs 22 19 Rushes-yards 50-237 41-248 Passing 197 109 Return Yards 89 11 Comp-Att-Int 12-28-1 10-13-1 Punts 4-32 5-41 Fumbles-Lost 1-1 1-1 Penalties-Yards 8-56 5-50 Time of Possession 32:38 27:22
RUSHINGNotre Dame, Edwards 15-91, Denson 13-70, Kinder 13-50, Mosley 1-19, Stokes 1-2, Powlus 7-5. Washington, Shehee, 32-191, Thomas 4-28, Huard 4-29, Wales 1-0.
PASSINGNotre Dame, Powlus 12-28-1-197. Washington, Huard 10-13-1-109.
RECEIVINGNotre Dame, Mayes 7-132, Chryplew’z 2-31, Mosely 2-29, Edwards 1-5. Washington, Shehee 3-20, Janoski 2-34, Thomas 2-8, Conwell 1-22, DeSaussure 1-13, Coleman 1-12.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
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