WORCESTER, Mass. — There are brutal ways to lose a football game and even more brutal ways to lose.

What happened to New Hampshire in its non-season conference opener against Holy Cross on Saturday defied description.

The Wildcats led 10-6 with 2:02 remaining. All they had to do was eat up time and they would have a victory.

But on first-and-10 from the two, the Crusaders’ Liam Doran popped Carlos Washington (18 carries, 111 yards), who fumbled. Joe Lang scooped up the ball and ran it in to give the Crusaders an improbable 13-10 victory.

“We were running an inside run to the left,” Washington said. “We were trying to get out of the end zone and the backer shot the gap. I was trying to get back to the line and the ball popped out. That’s on me.

“It’s a great stepping stone for us. We still have a lot to work on and I’ve got a lot to work on but you can learn from it and bounce back next week.”

Defensive back Evan Horn supported his teammate.

“It’s over now,” Horn said. “(Washington) never will do that again. He’ll learn from it. If I had to bet my money I’d bet he’d come back in a game and have 150 yards.

“It’s tough but it’s over and I can’t do much about it.”

The loss spoiled the debut of interim head coach Ricky Santos, stepping in for Sean McDonnell, who’s out indefinitely for health-related reasons.

“Any time an athlete like that makes a play that decides the outcome and it’s not in our favor you put your arm around him and tell him you love him,” Santos said. “You tell him to keep fighting. I think that will make him more mentally tough if he allows it to. But we have to be clean leading up to that so it’s not that close.”

Holy Cross faced a fourth-and-eight on the UNH 9 when Connor Degenhardt (21 for 34, 253 yards) completed a pass to Jack Sewell, who was tackled by Pop Bush one yard shy of the goal line.

“I’m not going to say we let up,” Santos said. “You felt like we had a chance to run out the clock. The message all week was stay the course. I felt we did a good job weathering the storm and giving us a chance to win late.

“We have 10 games left. This is a great teachable moment for these young guys.”

Offense was an unknown commodity in the first half, which ended with Holy Cross leading 3-0 on a 28-yard field goal by Derek Ng with 2:31 left.

UNH held the Crusaders to 178 yards of total offense while Holy Cross held the Wildcats to 143 yards.

The Wildcats found themselves in a deep hole early in the first quarter when Cody Williamson’s 41-yard punt pinned them at their 1. But two plays later redshirt freshman Bret Edwards (7 for 18, 97 yads, 1 interception) extricated UNH from that hole by completing a 42-yard pass to Dylan Laube.

What might have been a promising drive stalled on the UNH 49 and forced a punt.

Eventually Degenhardt hooked up with Spencer Gilliam for a 62-yard completion, which placed the ball on UNH’s 29 and led to Ng’s field goal.

UNH caught a break late in the first half when Holy Cross was penalized for roughing the punter, which gave the Wildcats a first down on the Crusaders’ 43.

Edwards connected with Washington for a 14-yard gain and ran for 14 yards, which gave UNH a first down on the Crusaders’ 15 with 51 seconds left. But with a chance at least to tie the game, Edwards’ pass to the end zone was intercepted by John Smith as the Crusaders protected that 3-0 lead.

The Wildcats began the second half by marching from their 9 to the Crusaders’ 4 before stalling and settling for a 21-yard field goal by Hughes. Freshman Max Brosner (8 for 16, 106, 1 interception), who had replaced Edwards, engineered the drive that led to Hughes field goal.

The key play in that drive was a 29-yard run by Washington on fourth-and-1 from the Holy Cross 43.

Holy Cross snapped that 3-3 tie on a 20-yard field goal by Ng 45 seconds into the final quarter –- after UNH was penalized for pass interference and the Crusaders executed a double reverse, which put the ball on the Wildcats 1.

“I thought (Brosmer) made some plays with his legs,” Santos said. “I thought he missed some open guys. But I thought he did a decent job getting acclimated. We made the switch at halftime and I was really proud of how he led us to that touchdown drive.

“I think we have a bright future with those two young men.”