They came so painfully close.
The Arizona Wildcats led Washington less than six minutes into the game. They led the Huskies until just over six minutes remained. They couldn’t seal the deal.
Arizona suffered a heartbreaking 21-16 loss Friday night in front of an announced crowd of 30,880 at Arizona Stadium.
It was the Wildcats’ school-record 19th consecutive defeat. It felt crueler than most of the previous 18.
"We’ve got a locker room full of tears," first-year UA coach Jedd Fisch said. "I expect that. I love the way that our guys fight. But on top of fighting, you need execution."
Arizona led 13-0 at halftime. The Wildcats were up 16-7 and had the ball at the UW 28-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Then, as has happened far too often this season, disaster struck.
On first-and-10, Will Plummer threw an interception to UW defensive tackle Tuli Letuligasenoa on an attempted screen pass.
The Huskies quickly turned the turnover into points. Dylan Morris connected with Terrell Bynum for a 51-yard gain to the UA 9. On the next play, Cameron Davis crashed across the goal line to make it 16-14 with 11:39 left.
After a three-and-out — Jedd Fisch could have gone for it on fourth-and-1 from Arizona's 34 but elected to punt — the Morris-Bynum tandem struck again. Another 51-yard pass advanced the Huskies to the UA 17.
A defensive holding penalty gave Washington first-and-goal at the 8. Morris hit Rome Odunze for an 8-yard touchdown to give the Huskies their first lead, 21-16, with 6:44 remaining.
Arizona went backwards on its next possession and had to punt. The Wildcats had a chance to get the ball back, but on third-and-3 — after a timeout — they were flagged for having too many men on the field.
"That's not something that is even remotely in my mind, that that could have happened when that happened," Fisch said. "So we need to get that cleaned up. We need to get that fixed. We can't have those things."
Arizona had one last gasp from its 20 with 21 seconds left and no timeouts. Plummer’s Hail Mary pass from the UA 40 landed in the arms of Washington's Asa Turner well short of the end zone.
"We continue to get in fistfights with our hands tied behind our back," Fisch said. "We're in a situation where we have 10 penalties for (73) yards. We're in a situation where it's first-and-10 on the plus 28-yard-line, we call a screen pass, and instead of (throwing) it (into the ground), we throw it to the defensive lineman.
"If we're going to continue to turn the ball over and commit 10 penalties in a game, we're going to be a very disappointed group in the locker room. If we can learn how to cut those penalties down, if we could learn how to finish, get an extra yard or so, do a good job figuring out a way to finish some drives, we're gonna have a happy locker room."
The Huskies cut into Arizona’s halftime lead just over five minutes into the third quarter.
Morris’ 16-yard touchdown pass to Bynum made it 13-7 with 9:41 left in the period. Jaydin Young, starting in place of the injured Gunner Maldonado, had tight coverage on Bynum in the end zone, but Bynum came down with the ball.
Arizona answered with a methodical, clock-consuming drive. It lasted 15 plays and took up 7 minutes and 10 seconds. It ended with Tyler Loop’s second field goal, a 35-yarder that made it 16-7 with 2:31 to play in the third.
After a sack by Trevon Mason — Arizona’s fourth of the night — the Wildcats advanced into scoring range. That’s when Plummer threw the game-turning pick.
"We felt we couldn't have called a safer pass," Fisch said. "We called a screen pass. It was unfortunate. If I could get it back, I certainly would call something different."
Arizona fell to 0-7, 0-4 in the Pac-12. Washington improved to 3-4, 2-2.
The Wildcats’ defense dominated in the first half, limiting the Huskies to 65 yards on 31 plays.
Plummer had just 21 yards passing, but Arizona rushed for 129 yards, including 55 by freshman Stevie Rocker Jr.
Arizona took the lead in the first quarter thanks to its special teams.
Nazar Bombata blocked a Race Porter punt. Rhedi Short recovered the ball at the UW 23-yard line. It was the Wildcats’ first blocked punt since Chacho Ulloa had one vs. Oregon on Oct. 27, 2018. Arizona has had two punts blocked this season.
The Wildcats ran the ball three straight times after taking possession, gaining only 7 yards. Loop’s 34-yard field goal made it 3-0 with 9:01 left in the first quarter.
A defensive slugfest ensued from there — including three sacks by Arizona in the opening period. Mo Diallo had one and shared another. He finished with a game-high four tackles for losses.
On its fourth possession, Arizona finally broke a big play. Stanley Berryhill III gained 34 yards on a fly sweep. It was the Wildcats’ longest rush of the season.
Jamarye Joiner finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run in his new role as a “Wildcat” quarterback. Joiner trucked linebacker Jackson Sirmon as he crossed the goal line, giving Arizona a 10-0 lead with 8:16 left in the half.
After another defensive stop, Arizona expanded its lead. Rocker ripped off a 52-yard run — surpassing Berryhill’s for the season’s longest — on a zone-read play with fellow Tucsonan Joiner at quarterback. Joiner escorted Rocker down the left sideline to the UW 29.
The drive stalled there. Lucas Havrisik’s 50-yard field goal made it 13-0.
The UW game marked the fifth time this season Arizona has been within one score in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats have to figure out a way to finish on top.
"We talked about it as a team. We understand what we have to work on," said linebacker Jerry Roberts, who tied for team-high honors with eight tackles.
"When we get into games like this where we're up, we just can't get complacent. We can't get too much in our heads thinking, 'Oh we got this.'
"We just gotta keep moving forward, keep the gas going. We let off a little too much in the game, obviously. Didn't finish how we wanted to."
• Arizona played without defensive tackle Kyon Barrs, who suffered a lower-leg injury late in last week’s game against Colorado. Barrs leads the Wildcats with 2.5 sacks. Leevel Tatum III started in Barrs’ spot and was the one who ran onto the field late to cause the illegal-substitution foul in the fourth quarter.
• Center Josh McCauley started after being considered a game-time decision throughout the week. Josh Baker made his second straight start at right guard in place of Josh Donovan, who has a lower-leg injury.
• Running backs Drake Anderson and Michael Wiley dressed, but second-year freshman Jalen John got the start. He had a career-high 19 carries for 65 yards.
• Washington played without several regulars, including tackle Jaxson Kirkland, running back Richard Newton, defensive lineman Sam Taimani, linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio and safety Cameron Williams.
• UW defensive back Alex Cook had to be carted off in the first quarter after a nasty collision with John. Cook had movement in his extremities, a Huskies spokesman said.