PULLMAN – On the oppressive days of fall football camp, nobody at Washington State is consumed with the startling events of a cloudy Friday afternoon last November. There are too many pressing priorities, including a daunting opener at Auburn in 12 days.
But ask WSU players about their 31-28 overtime victory over Washington in the Apple Cup that day, and they embrace it readily. It could be a bit of a road map for rough spots in 2013, and to some, it’s even a rebuke for the shortfall of a 3-9 season.
“It gave us a boost,” said middle linebacker Darryl Monroe. “But it shows us we have things to work on. Like, why couldn’t we play that way in the other games?”
It was a thoroughly shocking result, starting with the fact WSU was a 14-point underdog dealing with some internal strife. Then the Cougars bumbled through a bad third quarter and fell behind 28-10, setting them up for the biggest comeback in the rivalry’s history.
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All sorts of improbable things went into it, from Jeff Tuel’s escape act to throw a long completion, to Gino Simone’s how’d-that-happen catch that whistled through the hands of Washington linebacker John Timu first.
With 1:59 left, the Cougars had closed to 28-25, and faced a fourth-and-one at the UW 28. The percentage call seemed to be to go for it, because a miss on a 45-yard field goal by kickerkicker Andrew Furney would almost certainly end it.
“That was more nerve-wracking for me than the game-winner,” said Furney.
“I wasn’t going in telling myself, ‘If I miss, we’re going to lose.’ But I said, ‘I have to make this. This is big.’ ‘’
Complicating that kick was the fact that coach Mike Leach debated the decision as the play clock clicked down.
“We got the snap off with maybe a second or two on the play clock,” Furney said. “I knew we were rushed, so I sprinted out there. I remember telling myself, ‘I’m not gonna sacrifice my routine.’ I wasn’t going to rush through my steps just to get it off in time. We were fortunate to get it off.”
The kick sailed through successfully, the Huskies missed a winning field goal after their ensuing drive and it went to overtime — the fourth time the teams had gone to OT in Pullman since 1996.
That augured the play most remembered from the game, as UW quarterback Keith Price was hit by WSU defensive end Logan Mayes, lofted the ball up, and Cougar lineman Toni Pole intercepted and lugged it 60 yards to the UW 5-yard line before receiver Cody Bruns ran him down.
As with Furney’s tying field goal, there’s a story behind that play.
Mayes was supposed to “twist“ with the defensive tackle on his side and rush through the “A” gap (guard-center). But defensive tackle Junior Gauta had crossed into that gap, surprising Mayes. It had happened in practice, so Mayes was able to create on the fly.
“I tried to shove it in that (same) gap with Junior in there, and Coach Joe (Salave’a, defensive-line coach) had told me, ‘No, you shouldn’t do that, you’ve got to keep going and find air,’” said Mayes, recalling the practice.
So Mayes found air. He plunged through the A gap on the other side, got brushed briefly by an offensive guard, and took Price down, thinking he had a sack. He looked up and saw Pole running with the ball, and thought the game was over.
“Bruns, man, he should have run track,” Mayes said.
Of course, it remained for Furney to hit the game-ending 27-yard field goal — “We had so much momentum going on the sideline; it was easy,” he said — followed by the inevitable wild celebration on the field. And after.
“Pullman was the place to be, I can tell you that,” said Xavier Cooper, a defensive end.
The victory hardly erased the plague of a three-win season. But without it, the year would have been an unmitigated disaster for WSU. Instead, it provided some sustenance.
“UW is a good team,” Mayes said. “The fact we could beat a team like that speaks volumes about what potential we have.”
“Especially how we rallied together and came out with a win,” says safety Deone Bucannon. “That just showed people we’re not too far behind. We’re right there, actually.
“It’s a reminder that if we’re in a sticky situation or doubting ourselves, we can look and be like, ‘We’ve done it before.’ ”
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org