Byron Murphy sat alone on Washington’s bench, watching the scene unfold at midfield. Several Huskies were still lingering there, offering handshakes and some pats on the back to the Cal players that had just completed the 12-10 upset.
As his teammates headed down the stairs and into the visitor’s locker room at California Memorial Stadium, Murphy remained in the same spot, only moving to lean forward and rest his arms on his knees.
Minutes passed before fellow defensive back Keith Taylor noticed him. He walked over, shook Murphy’s hand, knelt as he coaxed him to stand. Then, as Cal’s fans started descending from the stands to join their team’s celebration, Murphy followed Taylor off the field, removing his gloves one-by-one.
Murphy’s teammates — Drew Sample and Ben Burr-Kirven and Tevis Bartlett — later shared his same blank stare as they addressed the media. There was a heavy disappointment, an air of disbelief, at what had just transpired.
UW entered Saturday’s game against Cal in the driver’s seat in the Pac-12 North: Win out, and the Huskies would be in the Pac-12 championship game. When they left to return to Seattle, that had changed.
“Painful,” head coach Chris Petersen said simply. “Painful on offense.”
UW’s drive chart told that story. After the touchdown on the Huskies’ first offensive possession, it read like this: Interception. Punt. Punt. Downs. Punt. Interception. Punt. Punt. Field goal.
“We just didn’t execute,” Sample said. “That’s kind of what happens in this league: If you don’t show up, if you don’t execute, you’re going to get beat. That was obviously a tough one for us, but we got to learn from our mistakes and try to bounce back next week.”
When Cal took the lead, the one the Golden Bears would hold until the game’s end, quarterback Jake Browning was standing on the sideline: Helmet on, hands on his hips.
In an attempt to spark the offense — “Somehow, some way,” Petersen said — UW’s coaching staff inserted redshirt freshman backup quarterback Jake Haener.
“(Browning’s) a competitor,” Petersen said of the decision. “He’s mad right now. I would expect nothing different out of him. It is what it is.”
At that point, Browning had completed just 8-of-15 passes for 109 yards, one touchdown and an interception. Haener’s only other collegiate snaps came in a runaway victory over North Dakota earlier this season.
Haener’s first pass of the day fell incomplete. His second was intercepted by Cal’s Evan Weaver, who returned it 37 yards and dove over the corner of the end zone for a touchdown.
That put the Golden Bears ahead 12-7 with one second left in the third quarter.
Haener, like Browning, could only watch it happen.
Haener remained in the game for UW’s next possession, nearly throwing another interception on third-and-3 from the Husky 48. After that, Browning got on the phone to offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan: He was ready to return.
Petersen said he always planned to put Browning back in after Haener played a few series.
“I don’t think I respect anybody more than (Browning), maybe ever,” Hamdan said. “I appreciate him going in there and playing a gutsy fourth quarter.”
But neither Haener nor Browning could ignite UW’s offense. In Browning’s first drive back, UW went just 15 yards and the possession ended in familiar fashion: Punt.
“Just as a whole I don’t think we were in good positions,” Sample said. “It showed. We couldn’t sustain drives, we couldn’t get in a rhythm. We had our shots at the end and we just couldn’t execute.”
The Huskies’ defense — like it did so often on Saturday night — then came up with the stop. Aaron Fuller returned the ensuing punt 22 yards to Cal’s 28-yard line.
UW looked like it was in position to put together its first touchdown drive since the first quarter. But Salvon Ahmed was brought down for a 10-yard loss on the first play. After Browning hit Ty Jones for a 22-yard gain to the 9-yard line, Kamari Pleasant rushed for no gain and Browning overthrew Fuller in the back of the end zone.
That brought up 3rd-and-goal from the 9-yard line. Browning’s pass, nearly intercepted, fell incomplete. Peyton Henry kicked a 26-yard field goal that pulled the Huskies within two points, 12-10.
“We got to finish that,” Hamdan said. “The defense played their tails off. We did good things on special teams. (The offense) got plenty of opportunities. This one’s on us.”
Cal took over with 4:51 left in the game, and the Huskies needed the defense to come up with another stop. But this time, UW’s defense — the one that didn’t allow an offensive touchdown, that gave up just 242 yards of total offense — couldn’t get it done.
The Golden Bears picked up the two first downs they needed to run out the clock. Their celebration was on.
“I think our defense will always give us a chance,” Petersen said. “Those guys play good defense and they swarm. I think there’s just a lot of evenly matched teams in this conference. I just really do. If one side of the ball is not going to show up and do their part, that’s what’s going to happen.”
UW’s offense had with 250 yards of total offense. The Huskies were 4-of-13 on third down conversions, finishing with just 13 first downs.
All night, the Huskies were waiting for the drive when their offense would finally click. It never came.
“Every time we got the ball we were trying to go down and score,” Sample said. “We had a couple three-and-outs, some sacks, things here and there. We shot ourselves in the foot with some penalties. Those are just rhythm killers, momentum killers. We couldn’t get anything going.”
With running back Myles Gaskin missing his second straight game after suffering an injury against Oregon, the Huskies managed just 91 rushing yards.
Browning completed 11-of-21 passes for 148 yards, one touchdown and an interception. He was sacked twice. Haener was 1-for-5 for 11 yards and an interception. Ty Jones, who caught three passes for 50 yards and a touchdown, was the leading receiver.
The Huskies held a 7-6 lead at the break, the least amount of points they scored in the first half all season. In the second quarter, they ran just eight offensive plays, gaining 10 yards and getting one first down.
UW’s only first-half touchdown came on a 14-play, 64-yard drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown pass from Browning to Jones.
With 5:09 left in the first quarter, Cal trimmed the advantage to 7-3 with a 23-yard field goal from Greg Thomas. The Golden Bears then added a second field goal with 6:38 remaining in the second quarter to produce the 7-6 halftime score.
Cal had a chance to take the lead going into the break, but Thomas missed a 41-yard field goal as time expired.
“I know everyone in the offense is sick about this,” Petersen said. “None more so than on the offensive side. Extremely frustrating.”