An 80-yard drive ending with Anthony Allen's 11-yard touchdown reception between two defenders with six seconds left gave Washington a 21-20 victory over Maryland today in the inaugural Aloha Bowl.
Maryland came from eight points down to lead, 20-14, with 3:49 remaining, and looked to secure its first bowl victory in five years, only to have all-Atlantic Coast Conference kicker Jess Atkinson miss a 32-yard field goal.
"If we make it," said Coach Bobby Ross, "we lock away the game."
A poor snap from center had forced Atkinson to miss a point-after-touchdown kick in the first quarter and proved to be the difference in this game.
Atkinson tried in vain to hold back tears in the locker room afterward.
"I didn't hit it that bad," Atkinson said. "I just pushed it to the right. The funny thing is that I felt so confident walking out there. I had made two kicks from the same spot on Friday in practice. It was all my fault. It was just me."
Washington, after taking possession at its 20, converted three fourth-down plays en route to the winning score.
Quarterback Tim Cowan, the game's most valuable player, completed 33 of 53 passes for 350 yards and three touchdowns -- all to Allen. Cowan started the final drive by completing a 16-yard pass to Allen, and ended it 15 plays later by throwing to Allen, who beat double coverage to catch the ball on the left sideline.
Throughout the last drive, in which Cowan completed nine of 13 passes, Maryland's ineffectual pass rush pressed him only twice.
Cowan threw the game's final pass between Terrapin defensive end Howard Eubanks and cornerback Clarence Baldwin.
"I thought he was out of bounds," Baldwin said, "because I was right with him and I was out of bounds."
"I figured it was going to Allen all the way," Eubanks said. "It was right over my head, past my hand."
Cowan, a fifth-year senior who played the best game of his career, said the route was designed for Allen from the time the play began with 12 seconds left after Washington had used its last timeout.
"We faked a draw play right and drew the defense a little right," Cowan said. "Anthony broke back and the Maryland defensive end (Eubanks) was just a little off position because of the fake."
Said Eubanks: "It hurts, it hurts like hell."
Maryland, ranked 16th, ended the season with an 8-4 record, but lost a chance to move into the top 10. The Terrapins lost to four nationally ranked teams by a total of 12 points -- Penn State by eight, West Virginia by one, Clemson by two and No. 9 Washington by one.
"We can still use this year as a building device for our program," Coach Bobby Ross said. "But we've got to win these close ones."
It took Maryland an entire half to adjust to the superior speed and defensive stunts of Washington, the Pac-10 runner-up and a team that was ranked No. 1 the first seven weeks of the season.
Maryland played what Ross called "our poorest performance of the year in the first half. We did nothing."
Washington took a 7-0 lead five minutes into the game on Cowan's 27-yard touchdown pass to Allen, who raced pass Terrapin cornerback Lendell Jones. Maryland made it 7-6 on Boomer Esiason's six-yard screen pass to Dave D'Addio, which preceeded the botched extra point.
Washington's lead went to 14-6 five minutes before halftime on a pass from Cowan to Allen, who put a little hula move on Maryland cornerback Gil Hoffman at the 40, and ran untouched the last 60 yards to complete a 71-yard play. "I stopped about two yards before I got to him," Hoffman said. "I lost my momentum just as he gained his." The result was Washington's longest pass play of the year.
The Terrapins had two chances to close the margin before intermission. But Esiason fumbled after being sacked by Ken Driscoll, giving the ball back to Washington.
Maryland got it back after holding Washington on four downs. And Esiason threw 22 yards to Mike Lewis, then 16 yards to Greg Hill, moving the Terrapins to the Husky 29 with three seconds left. The down markers had to be moved, stopping the clock. Esiason immediately threw out of bounds, but time expired.
The Terrapins made major adjustments at halftime, after Esiason had been blitzed into several incompletions by the Huskies' exceptionally fast linebackers, especially right outside linebacker Tony Caldwell, the defensive MVP.
"They did some things like delayed stunts that we hadn't seen," said Esiason. "But we made sight adjustments at the line of scrimmage in the second half."
Esiason completed passes of 12 yards to John Tice, 13 yards to D'Addio and ran 11 yards himself to the 38. After D'Addio gained two yards, Esiason went back to Tice, who beat safety Vince Newsome and got a crunching block from Mike Lewis to finish the 36-yard touchdown play.
A unsuccessful two-point conversion run by Willie Joyner left the score, 14-12, Washington, midway through the third quarter.
The Terrapins forced a punt and moved 86 yards to go ahead, 20-14, with 10:44 left in the game on a two-yard run by tailback John Nash and two-point conversion pass from Esiason to Tice to beat a safety blitz.
Nash, on that drive, carried four times for 22 yards and caught three passes for 18 yards -- all with bruised ribs suffered when his 29-yard reception set up the team's first touchdown. "My goodness, they were fast," said Nash. "You turn the corner and the end is already standing there."
When Atkinson lined up for his field goal, many of the 30,055 in Aloha Stadium began to leave, opting for spending the rest of the afternoon at the beach, when it appeared Maryland was about to win easily.
The outcome also left Ross and Esiason angry with the Washington players. "It's rough to find out a team that was ranked No. 1 for seven weeks is so dirty and has such a lack of class," said Esiason. He was refering to several Huskies counting out Maryland's Rick Badanjek after he fell injured.
Ross complained the Washington players were illegally making "sharp noises" when Maryland's offense went to the line of scimmage, interfering with Esiason's signal calling.
Washington Coach Don James didn't address those allegations. "It was a wild game," he said.