A few minutes after Mike Hohensee bounced near, but not quite across, the goal line on a fourth-down run, the young quarterback wore the eerily calm expression of a man who has suffered a mystifying accident without yet knowing the dimensions of his loss.
The Federals' 34-27 loss in the waning moments to the Oakland Invaders Monday night defied a participant's immediate description.
"I don't know, I don't know what happened," Hohensee said. "It looked like I had a clear path for the goal line, but someone bumped me from the inside. I felt it but I didn't see it."
The play began, with 1:21 left in the game, from the Oakland 2 1/2 yard line. It ended seconds later, the ball agonizingly short of the chalk. Hohensee said he thought he had crossed the goal line, but he said so without conviction and nearly everyone in the steamy locker room agreed with the official's call, a call that ensured the Federals' 10th loss in 11 games.
"What can I tell you?" Coach Ray Jauch asked with a shrug of the shoulders and a tightening of the cheek muscles. "If he had stayed on his feet another fraction of a second, another foot . . . What can I tell you?"
The series of plays that preceded that fourth-down quarterback draw was indeed telling. A pass interference call and a 24-yard completion helped move the Federals from their 33 to the Oakland two.
On first down, Hohensee overthrew Craig James. As the Federals prepared for their second try at the tying touchdown, the 30-second clock ran out and the delay-of-game penalty put the ball back at the seven. The Invaders committed 18 penalties for 122 yards, but this one against the Federals was the game's most important.
On second down, Hohensee threw incomplete to Mike Holmes, who had caught three touchdown passes. And on third down, a sideline pass to James was complete and set up the dramatic fourth-down play.
"On Mike's draw, I saw the whole thing," said James, who gained 58 yards on 13 carries. "I ran a motion pattern to draw my man off. I was standing on the goal line. When he went down, I thought it was 50-50 on whether they'd call him in. Man, I thought we were going to pull it out. But then it happens . . . Something reaches up and pulls us down."
One thing that pulled down the Federals was the passing of Oakland quarterback Fred Besana, who put on a poised performance, completing 22 of 31 passes for 270 yards and four touchdowns. The Invaders opened a 34-17 lead early in the third quarter. But Washington countered with a 78-yard kickoff return by Eric Robinson and an 80-yard scoring pass from Hohensee to Holmes.
Besana's 16-yard touchdown pass with 10:12 to play in the third quarter gave his team the 17-point lead, but the Federals appeared determined to stay in the contest. Hohensee, with the help of four Oakland penalties, led the Federals downfield to the Oakland 15. Sandro Vitiello, who beat out Dale Castro for the kicker position last Friday, was good on a 32-yard field goal try.
Willie Holley's fumble recovery gave the ball back to Washington on its 49. A 27-yard pass to Joey Walters and a 21-yard scoring throw to Holmes made the score 34-27 wih 3:06 left in the game.
The teams exchanged the ball nine more times before the gun went off on a game that ended at 2:29 a.m. (EST). Then the Federals boarded a bus that met a red-eye flight for Washington.
"Man, he almost made it," said running back Billy Taylor. "He had a real good chance. Damn. We find every damn way, don't we? It's getting frustrating as hell."
The toll of a season of losses was beginning to sink in after yet another defeat.