BOULDER, Colo. — First, Ralphie ran.
Jack Lamb followed, football in hand.
On Saturday, at 12:06 p.m., Ralphie VI — Colorado’s latest live buffalo mascot, an 18-month-old, 500-pound female — made her traditional trot around Folsom Field, bounding between four black-hatted trainers before pulling a hard right at midfield and retreating into the end zone.
Twenty-six minutes later, Lamb — a 220-pound linebacker — produced a similar sprint.
Trailing 3-0 with 2:51 left in the first quarter, UW quarterback Dylan Morris attempted to take a snap from center Luke Wattenberg on first-and-goal from the 3. Instead, the ball fell fatefully to the turf and was booted backward, before Lamb retrieved it and took off at the 12-yard line.
He bolted untouched into the end zone 88 yards later.
It was the first of four UW turnovers, on a debilitating bingo board of offensive implosions.
Which is how Washington (4-7) outgained Colorado (4-7) 426-183 … in an eventual 20-17 loss.
“We’ve got to score some points and can’t turn the ball over. It’s pretty simple,” said UW interim head coach Bob Gregory. “That was really the tale of the game right there.”
UW also entered Saturday’s game as the only team in the country with a perfect red-zone scoring record, producing 21 touchdowns and 10 field goals in 31 trips inside the 20. That streak was snapped in disastrous fashion at Folsom Field.
But the blunders were just beginning.
In a 10-10 tie during UW’s opening drive of the second half, left tackle Jaxson Kirkland was called for a holding penalty that negated a 12-yard Cameron Davis run to the CU 16-yard line. On the following play, Morris tried to hand to running back Kamari Pleasant, but the sixth-year senior had already vacated the backfield. Morris attempted to salvage the broken play by whipping a pass to wide receiver Taj Davis, but the ball clattered off his hand and was intercepted by diving linebacker Robert Barnes instead.
Twelve plays. Thirty-nine yards. Zero points.
On UW’s next drive, the Huskies faced third-and-seven from the Buffs’ 23-yard line … and Morris was promptly sacked for an 8-yard loss, before Peyton Henry missed a 49-yard field goal.
Nine plays. Thirty-four yards. Zero points.
On UW’s next drive, a Wattenberg shotgun snap deflected off his own leg and never made it to Morris, recovered by Barnes at the Husky 7-yard line. Colorado converted a 22-yard field goal three plays later to take a 13-10 lead.
Two plays. Minus-three yards. Three points (for the opponent).
On UW’s next drive, Morris looked left on third-and-nine from the Colorado 28-yard line and lofted a pass intended for wide receiver Jalen McMillan that was intercepted by cornerback Nikko Reed in the corner of the end zone.
Nine plays. Forty-seven yards. Zero points.
In all, UW averaged 10.7 plays in its first 10 drives, producing 332 total yards … and 10 total points.
“I don’t have any magical answers for you guys,” Gregory said. “We can’t turn the ball over. We’ve got to be able to score some points, and we were unable to do that today.”
There hasn’t been much magic to speak of this season. UW did receive a late spark from second-year wide receiver Ja’Lynn Polk — who, in his first game back from a chest injury, recorded a 55-yard touchdown to narrow the deficit to 20-17 with 2:30 left in the fourth quarter.
But after UW’s defense forced a three-and-out to get the ball back, Morris and Co. couldn’t find a first down — and he was hit while releasing a fourth-and-five pass for a game-ending incompletion.
At 4-7, UW has failed to qualify for postseason play for the first time since 2009.
“It’s disappointing, because I know everybody wants to go and do that — play the extra game, play the game they love,” said cornerback Kyler Gordon, who contributed five tackles and a tackle for loss in defeat. “So it kind of sucks, yeah.”
Added Gregory, when asked in August if he ever contemplated that a team this talented might miss a bowl game: “No. Nope. Not at all. It’s been a challenging season, that’s for sure. But these guys — I’ve said it all along to you guys — they’re not quitting. They’re playing hard. They’re playing fast. They’re doing everything we ask them to do. We just can’t make enough plays when we need them.”
Ultimately, it didn’t matter that Colorado went 2 for 13 on third down. Or that the Buffs rushed for just 71 yards and 2.6 yards per carry. Or that Morris completed 33 of 52 passes for 387 yards and two touchdowns. Or that UW wide receiver Rome Odunze recorded an 8-yard second-quarter score. Or that the Buffs punted on six consecutive possessions, sandwiched between field goals. Or that UW converted an immaculate 14 of 21 third downs.
Or that UW’s defense produced its most impressive performance of the season, score aside.
“I’m not sure our guys (on defense) could have done much more, other than get a turnover,” Gregory said. “When there’s four turnovers on the other side of the ball, that makes it hard on us.”
The UW defense surrendered just a single touchdown, on a 2-yard dive by quarterback Brendon Lewis with 4:05 left in the fourth quarter. But Lamb’s 88-yard sprint was merely the first square in turnover bingo.
Unfortunately, the damage had already been done.