Broncos buck Huskies in Sin City thriller

Sophomore running back Bishop Sankey leaps over a pile of Bronco defenders en route to a 13-yard gain during the UW's first possession of the third quarter.


Photo by Josh Bessex

LAS VEGAS — The Huskies spent the first 56 minutes trying to scratch their way to a lead after another slow start. They only needed three more minutes to fritter it away.

Even after Boise State’s Michael Frisina stuck a 27-yard field goal right down the middle to put the Broncos ahead with 1:16 left in the game, Washington had one final chance.

But this season’s Keith Price was not the Price who played Superman in scoring seven touchdowns during last year’s bowl game. This time around, Price’s last gasp came up short. He was intercepted with 14 seconds to play, and Boise State began to celebrate its third-straight victory in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas.

Despite a career-high 205 yards on the ground from UW running back Bishop Sankey, the Broncos (11-2) squeaked past the Huskies 28-26 on Saturday in front of 33,217 people at Sam Boyd Stadium, handing the UW a second brutal late-game loss in as many contests.

A play here or there both against the Broncos and during the Nov. 23 Apple Cup, and the UW would be flying high with a 9-4 record, primed to contend in the Pac-12 North in 2013. Instead, it finished 7-6 for the third consecutive season.

“As a program, when you look back at our last two games and you combine the two, our inability to finish is pretty glaring,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “And so, obviously, that will be a point of emphasis of ours as we head into the offseason.”

On Aug. 31, the Huskies will get another crack at Boise State, this time in their season-opener in Seattle. At least one UW player is already counting down the days.

“It hurts,” said wide receiver Kasen Williams, who caught six passes for 95 yards Saturday. “And the worst part is, it’s the last game of the season, and you have to live with it for nine months until we get the opportunity to play them again.

“This is going to be our edge. This is what we’re going to have on our backs while we’re working out and just continuing to get better.”

The UW squandered a career day from Sankey, who became the first member of a losing team to be named Most Valuable Player of a Las Vegas bowl. He added 74 yards receiving to his 205 on the ground and almost single-handedly kept the Huskies in the game in the face of a 6-of-18 start by Price.

He was particularly key to the UW’s go-ahead drive, rushing six times for 40 yards before Travis Coons knocked through a 38-yard field goal with 4:09 to play and giving the Huskies a 26-25 lead, their first of the game.

Momentum turned the very next play, when Boise State’s Shane Williams-Rhodes gashed the UW special teams for a 47-yard kickoff return, setting up the Broncos with a short field and plenty of time to navigate it.

“It was the same coverage we had been using, which was effective,” Sarkisian said of the pivotal play. “The ball kind of hung up in the air in the wind a little bit, and I’ll have to look at the film to see exactly, but I don’t think they changed their return. If we had a miscue there and got out of a lane or something, I’ll have to see.”

After Boise State regained the lead, Price had 76 seconds to try to guide his team down the field. Short passes melted the time off the clock, though, and by the time Price was picked off by Jeremy Ioane, the dangerous pass was a risk he had to take.

“I just didn’t see the safety,” he said. “I thought Cody [Bruns] was running wide open, and the guy just jumped out of nowhere and picked the ball off.”

The Huskies simply didn’t have enough to complete their comeback. Having to come back at all could have been avoided had the UW not spent the first quarter stuck in molasses.

After dinking and dunking their way to a 12-3 lead, the Broncos turned to the big play to stretch their advantage even further.

First, Aaron Burks used a double move to beat the UW secondary deep, hauling in a 40-yard reception on first down to move into Husky territory.

Then, Boise State head coach Chris Petersen delved into his bottomless bag of tricks.

Quarterback Joe Southwick threw a backward pass to receiver Matt Miller, who lofted a pass of his own down the field to tight end Holden Huff. Huff rolled over a UW defender and into the end zone for a 34-yard touchdown. After a failed try for a two-point conversion, the Broncos walked away with an 18-3 lead.

The UW wasted no time in forcefully responding, as Sankey kicked his stellar first half into overdrive with a 26-yard touchdown run off the left side to draw within a single score.

Minutes later, on the UW’s last play of the half, Price scrambled for a seven-yard touchdown to cut Boise State’s lead to 18-17 at halftime.

“We had picked our energy up, and we had started executing our plays on offense and hitting the guys we were supposed to hit, and those guys were making plays,” Williams said. “We felt like our energy was right, and we just had to pick that energy up and continue going into the second half.”

After a hectic first half, the two teams settled down to trade lengthy third-quarter touchdown drives and make it a 25-23 margin going into the final period.

The Huskies wasted plenty of opportunities along the way. Coons missed a 41-yard field-goal attempt early in the fourth quarter that would have given his team the lead; the Huskies missed on their first seven third-down attempts of the game.

Now, as Williams said, the only thing between the UW and a shot at redemption is nine months that will almost certainly feel much longer.

“It’s going to be a slugfest,” Sarkisian said. “They’re a very well-coached team; their kids play hard. And that’s exactly what I’ll expect next time around. … They’ll come ready to play, and we’ve got nine months to get ready for them.”

Reach Sports Editor Kevin Dowd at sports@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @KevinDowd

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