On a dank and misty Saturday afternoon on the plains of Nebraska, two separate and pivotal phantom calls on Washington defenders sapped the energy from the visiting team and handed the game to the gracious red-clad Nebraska home squad.
Only football moments earlier, tied at 17 with just over two minutes left in the first half, UW’s Kiel Rasp sailed a hanging punt to the Nebraska 41-yard line for a waiting Cornhusker Tim Marlowe.
But Marlowe missed the catch, the ball grazed off his left ankle and bounced in the arms of Husky Jamaal Kerse, who picked it up and scampered forty yards into the end zone for a seemingly surprising touchdown and 24-17 Husky lead.
Husky momentum was exploding as players embraced and danced giddily.
Suddenly the fun was snuffed by a late-flying hankie that drifted lazily into the mayhem near the end zone. A dreaded phantom call had just been ushered that had even the Superbowl XL Pittsburg-Seattle zebras grumbling at the injustice of it all.
Washington was being penalized 15 yards for a bogus “kick catching interference” infraction on Washington’s Cort Dennison. The call was apparently the result of a new college football rule invented seconds earlier by the same squad of sight-challenged refs, and enforced midst wails and hollers by the entire Husky sidelines.
Truth was, there was no hand up for a fair catch by Marlowe, as the refs alleged. Nor was Dennison anywhere near Marlowe.
An absolutely terrible call that was played over and over on replays to the nationally televised featured game on ABC. And it morphed the UW Huskies from the sharp efficient team that had been giving Nebraska fits, into the team from two weeks ago that was hesitant and tentative to open the season.
After that play the game felt different, looked different and WAS different. Gone was the energy. And after Nebraska’s Brett Maher nailed a 35-yard field goal a few plays later for a 20-17 lead as time ran out, heads were slumped and players dismayed as they left the field.
A half-hour later, the second half opened much like the first.
It started with an ugly Husky three and out with the Huskies punting again. This time Rasp's punt was a 52-yard line drive that fell into the arms of Cornhusker receiver Rex Burkhead, who was immediately flattened catching the ball by re-amped Husky special teams.
But again two separate flags flew and mayhem insued, as the Huskies were again called for this new "kick catching interference" thing. Cameras caught a completely baffled UW Coach Steve Sarkisain questioning officials on where they were getting this rule from?
Burkhead DID catch the ball after all, which is all Husky defenders need to allow for a legal catch—according to, you know, actual college football rules. When there is no hand up for a fair catch, which there wasn't in either case, said receiver is eligible to be drilled by defenders once he touches the ball. This is how the game is played. Normally.
Nevertheless the Huskies were penalized again for another unjust 15 yards by self-righteous officials, who apparently had been downing drinks at halftime while celebrating their previous boneheaded call with the home fans.
And just to make matters worse, the head official, a tall retired fellow with far too much self-confidence, scolded Husky coach Steve Sarkisian for questioning his wisdom, and then stuck UW for yet another five yards just to rub salt in the wounds.
Soon thereafter the Husky defense, now even more lethargic and uninspired, allowed Nebraska to roll through them for 60 yards on eight runs and one short pass to Jamal Turner.
Suddenly the Huskies were down by 10 points with less than five minutes consumed in the second half.
But it got worse.
Husky four-star recruit Bishop Sankey, only recently snatched from the arms of cross-state rival WSU after committing to them years ago, muffed the kickoff on his own 1-yard line. A single play later, Nebraska gladly converted it for another seven points and a commanding 34-17 lead.
Twenty-one unanswered points that turned the game into a rout.
All four dozen crazed UW Husky fans lining the cheap seats several time zones away, agonized and bemoaned the injustice of it all. Which made nary a difference in the sea of 85,000 neurotic and delighted Nebraska fans.
This baby was all but over with two quarters left, and it had pinheaded referee call fingerprints all over it!
The Huskies actually did put up a fairly impressive fight afterwards and managed to regain the confidence they possessed prior to these dopey penalties, scoring another 14 points before time ran out. Including a drive that stalled at the nine yard line on downs and yielded zero points.
Nebraska would eventually enjoy another phantom “kick catching interference” penalty (which this time actually seemed semi-legit), but it hardly mattered.
UW’s very fast but young team was defeated, playing like it after these key calls in the middle of the game—in spite of some late-game heroics, they fell by 13 points, 51-38. One point less than the terrible call and a gift touchdown bequeathed to Nebraska.
And unlike other Pac-12 teams who were running up the score on their second straight high school team (I won’t name names, but their fans are obnoxious and they wear really funny-looking uniforms), UW’s future looks indeed bright!