PASADENA, Calif. — For more than 30 years, a thrilling loss in the Rose Bowl stood as perhaps the most glorious moment for the University of Wisconsin football program.
The ninth-ranked Badgers have moved far beyond that point, so there was little solace to be gained from a highly entertaining 45-38 loss to No. 6 Oregon on Monday night in the 98th Rose Bowl.
It was a cruel ending to a season that included two other heartbreaking last-second losses that kept UW (11-3) from playing in the national championship game.
"Well, obviously not an outcome we're happy with," UW coach Bret Bielema said. "Something that we'll carry with us for the rest of our lives — an entire coaching career for me.
"I've been out here twice and leave two games that are incredible football games. My guess is, if you don't care who won the game, it was probably a fun game to watch, but (it) doesn't help us out."
It's the second straight Rose Bowl loss for the Badgers, who fell to TCU 21-19 last season when a late 2-point conversion was batted down.
They fell to 3-5 in the game they can't seem to win without Barry Alvarez on the sideline. Alvarez is the only coach to win a Rose Bowl at UW, finishing 3-0 in the game.
"You're presented with an opportunity and you're so close, second year in a row, to be at the granddaddy of them all and to lose it, it's heartbreaking," senior free safety Aaron Henry said.
It was a fitting ending to a season that will be long remembered for three frustrating losses. This time, senior quarterback Russell Wilson was trying to set up a potential Hail Mary attempt on the final play of the game.
Two completions by Wilson of 29 and 33 yards moved the ball to the Oregon 25-yard line. He got up to the line with 2 seconds left and spiked the ball, but the clock showed no time.
After an officials' review, it was determined the game was over. One of the Badgers' earlier losses came against Michigan State after a replay review overturned an official's call that a Hail Mary completion was stopped short of the end zone. Instead of going to overtime, it was ruled a touchdown.
"For the game to end like that, it didn't end on a play, it ended on a ref's call," Henry said. "Or somebody's call in the box, it was heartbreaking, it was devastating.
"But if we would have done some better things defensively, maybe it wouldn't have come down to that."
The game turned out to be as thrilling as advertised, setting several offensive Rose Bowl records, including most combined points in a game. The Ducks rolled up 621 total yards with their fast-paced, no-huddle spread offense.
The Badgers came close, but couldn't quite match them with their more traditional, methodical offense. Tailback Montee Ball rushed for 164 yards and one touchdown but only 42 yards in the second half. He finished with 39 touchdowns for the season, tying Barry Sanders' Football Bowl Subdivision record.
The Badgers needed to be nearly perfect on offense to keep up with the Ducks (12-2), who won after two straight losses in Bowl Championship Series games.
UW came into the game tied for first nationally with fewest turnovers lost (eight) but had two Monday.
"It's part of what we do," Bielema said of not turning the ball over. "Any time we break away from that, we don't have success. Obviously, in the games we played this year that were not wins, that was a critical point."
The Badgers led 38-35 in the third quarter after Wilson's 18-yard touchdown pass to Nick Toon. Wilson completed 19 of 25 passes for 296 yards and two scores.
On the next series, Henry intercepted a deflected pass, one of two turnovers forced by the UW defense. Linebacker Mike Taylor came free on a blitz and sacked quarterback Darron Thomas late in the second quarter. Defensive end Louis Nzegwu fielded the loose ball on one bounce and returned it 33 yards for a touchdown.
As expected, UW's defense had problems containing Oregon's speed. The Ducks had touchdown runs of 91 and 64 yards by De'Anthony Thomas, as well as a 54-yard touchdown pass from Darron Thomas to running back Kenjon Barner.
The hope coming in was, if the Badgers could force some turnovers, it might be enough. It looked that way after Henry's interception, but a long stoppage of play followed, when Oregon guard Carson York was taken off the field on a stretcher after suffering a broken left leg.
"I thought we had the momentum," Henry said. "Their injury settled everything down again."
After going six games without an interception and having only three overall, Wilson was picked off four plays later when linebacker Kiko Alonso made a nice play, stepping in front of tight end Jacob Pedersen.
The Ducks took a 42-38 lead on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Darron Thomas to Lavasier Tuinei, then tacked on a 30-yard field goal by Alejandro Maldonado with 6 minutes, 50 seconds left for a seven-point lead.
UW was driving for the potential tying touchdown when it suffered its other turnover. Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis caught a 29-yard pass to the Oregon 27-yard line but fumbled along the sidelines after a hit by cornerback Terrance Mitchell.
The Ducks managed just one first down, but because UW had squandered two timeouts and could stop the clock only once, the Badgers only had 16 seconds left when they got the ball back at their 13 following a punt.
After completions to Abbrederis and Toon, Wilson thought he had enough time to spike the ball.
"I thought that we were OK with it," he said. "I thought that we had enough time, that we definitely had 1 second left on the clock."
During the review, Wilson huddled with the quarterbacks on the sideline, getting the play from offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and fully expecting a second to be put back on the clock.
"It would have been a great play," Wilson said. "I definitely think we would have scored. It's something that we work on. ... It was a touchdown play, definitely a touchdown play."
The Badgers and their fans will spend the next several months lamenting the difference that second could have made.
"I thought we had it, to be honest," center Peter Konz said. "One second could have meant the world to us. At least we have a chance, it's all you can ask for. But that's the way it works sometimes. Some calls go your way and some don't."