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Originally published December 7, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 7, 2008 at 12:43 AM

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Run and done: Bears ruin Willingham's exit

With a 48-7 loss to California the Huskies finished 0-12, the most losses in Pac-10 history, and became the first team in the conference to go winless since Oregon State finished 0-11 in 1980.

Seattle Times staff reporter

BERKELEY — The Huskies spent the week invariably thinking about coaches coming and going. And on Saturday, they watched California running back Jahvid Best come and go.

It added up to a rather strange and all-too dreary ending to the worst season in Washington football history, as well as the four-year coaching tenure of Tyrone Willingham, as the Bears beat the Huskies, 48-7.

Asked if the coaching moves made it a tough game to prepare for, tight end Kavario Middleton said, "Yeah, a little bit. You had some guys that were ready to get on the bus [and get the season over with]."

Best rushed for a school-record 311 yards before departing with more than 10 minutes to go in the third quarter in a performance that reinforced why Willingham was jettisoned and Steve Sarkisian brought in to replace him. Sarkisian's hiring was officially announced a couple hours after the game ended.

Best scored four touchdowns, including runs of 60 and 84 yards, in rushing for the fourth-highest game total in Pac-10 history. The Bears rushed for 431 overall and took a 45-0 lead less than six minutes into the third quarter .

The Huskies finished 0-12, the most losses in Pac-10 history, and became the first team in the conference to go winless since Oregon State finished 0-11 in 1980.

"Gosh, that speaks for itself," said Willingham, who finished with an 11-37 record as Washington's coach.

Washington players said Willingham treated his finale as business as usual. When the game ended, there was little noticeable sentimentality from the coach. Willingham greeted California coach Jeff Tedford at midfield, briefly mingled with some other players and coaches, then jogged sternly into the locker room.

The job of picking up the pieces will now fall to Sarkisian. The team's underclassmen walked out of Memorial Stadium thinking mostly of a future they figure can only get better.

"'It's been a little revitalizing," said Middleton of the news of Sarkisian being hired. "It's been a little exciting."

For 15 scholarship seniors, the game was the end of their careers, and they had vowed to make it a good one.

"I was just trying to enjoy my last day of college football," said senior tight end Michael Gottlieb.

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But the Huskies were never really in it. Best rushed 60 yards for a touchdown on Cal's second play, and UW only had one first down until midway through the second quarter. The Huskies also had four turnovers in the first half, three by QB Ronnie Fouch — an interception and two fumbles. Fouch suffered a concussion midway through the second quarter and was replaced by walk-on Taylor Bean, who finished the game.

California broke the game open when Best scored twice in the span of 1:57 midway through the second quarter and put it away when it drove 89 yards in 28 seconds to score with just five seconds left in the first half.

"For the most part, guys out there played hard and gave everything they had," insisted linebacker Donald Butler.

The Huskies avoided the shutout when Bean led a 15-play, 65-yard drive and scored on a 2-yard run late in the third quarter.

After the game, some seniors lingered on the field. Center Juan Garcia, who returned for a sixth year, stood near one end zone, staring at the field, trying to come to grips with a season gone horribly wrong.

Gottlieb said he wished he could hang around for a turnaround he thinks will come under Sarkisian.

"I have all the respect in the world for coach Willingham," he said. "It's just unfortunate that the marriage didn't work out. It's not his fault, it's not our fault, it's just a collective team fault. But I think the guys have got a great future going forward. I think they are going to really surprise people next year. I'm definitely envious. Very envious."

Said senior cornerback Mesphin Forrester: "I feel the new coach will bring energy, bring some fire to these guys. Going 0-12, a lot of guys feel down on themselves. So he needs to bring some fire in and out of the locker room. These guys have got to have a passion for football, and then they will be all right."

But the loss illustrated again the massive rebuilding job awaiting Sarkisian. Washington allowed a school-record 38.6 points and a school-record 451.8 yards per game. And the Huskies scored just 12.7 points per game, the second-lowest total since 1969, and gained 263.2 yards per game, lowest since 1967.

"I'm just disappointed I couldn't get done what I came here to do," said Willingham when asked if he had any final words for Huskies fans. "That's it."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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