TUCSON, Ariz. — When Washington State and Arizona kicked off here at high noon in the Sonoran desert, there was little to suggest that a couple of old cronies from Florida would suddenly be prominent.
Washington State receiver Isiah Myers was only the Cougars’ ninth-leading receiver, and he had a three-game stretch earlier with just two catches. Arizona’s Trey Griffey, a redshirt freshman and the son of former Mariner great Ken Griffey Jr., hadn’t caught a pass yet this year.
But the two Floridians emerged, and when the day was done, they had a lot to talk about in the conversation Myers hoped to have with a childhood friend before he caught the Cougars’ charter flight home from a 24-17 victory.
Griffey caught his first passes as a Wildcat — four for 45 yards — and Myers had the game-deciding play, a 25-yard pass from Connor Halliday for the winning score.
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Griffey attended Dr. Phillips High in Orlando, same school as WSU linebacker Darryl Monroe. That was a rival of Myers’ Olympia High.
“We played Pop Warner since age 9 together,” said Myers. “His family helped me out a lot. Eventually we separated, but still kept in contact.
“I didn’t know this was his first career start. I’m proud of him. He’s proved he’s got what it takes.”
“From my vantage point,” said Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez of Griffey, “he competed pretty well.”
Griffey wasn’t made available to media afterward.
But it was Myers who had the most lasting memory with his touchdown catch.
“Just a routine play; we ran it about 30 times this game,” said Myers. “I ran a slant, he (Halliday) scrambled, and we (receivers) ran a scramble drill.”
The WSU administration faces a familiar plight with the Cougars (5-5) playing host to Utah on Saturday, needing a victory to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2003. The game comes after students complete classes before Thanksgiving break.
Most of the Cougars wouldn’t address the prospect of a bowl game. Said Monroe, “You start thinking about bowl games, you get a lack of focus.”
It was a day of special-teams follies on both sides. Arizona set the stage for a go-ahead WSU score with a botched punt snap in the third quarter, and kicker Jake Smith bungled field goals of 40 and 34 yards.
Meanwhile, WSU’s reliable Andrew Furney had a 46-yard field goal hit an upright, and punter Mike Bowlin had an unseemly hat trick, shanking a 3-yard punt and then toeing two kickoffs out of bounds.
• Mike Leach, the WSU coach, called Halliday’s 39-for-53 performance “the best game he’s played.” Receiver Dom Williams didn’t argue, saying, “I ride or die with Connor. He’s my quarterback.”
• Halliday’s 46th career touchdown pass tied WSU great Drew Bledsoe for No. 5 on the career list at the school.
• LB Justin Sagote had a career-high 12 tackles, which led WSU.
• Five victories is the Cougars’ most since going 5-7 in 2007.
• When safety Deone Bucannon left the field for one play in the second quarter, the Cougars turned to a 5-foot-9, walk-on from Gig Harbor, Beau Glover.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org