The Cougars did something on special teams that hasn't been done since 1968, and Gerard Wicks broke a rushing record that has stood since 1948

Share story

PULLMAN – The biggest moment of Nate DeRider’s college football career to date came Saturday night, when, in the second quarter of Washington State’s 56-21 beat down of Cal, the junior linebacker intercepted Cal quarterback Davis Webb in WSU’s end zone.

“I just dropped back, got to my zone and took a quick peek at the quarterback, and he was launching the ball straight to the receiver,” DeRider said. “I just got back into my zone and the ball was right there, and it fell right into my hands.”

So instead of a Cal touchdown that might have narrowed WSU’s lead to 21-14, the Cougars’ defense got a big turnover, and it came at the hands of a backup walk-on linebacker, who had, to that point, spent most of his career on special teams.

DeRider’s effectiveness in his first significant live snaps on defense underscores how well the Cougars’ defensive coaches have managed to plug holes and keep chugging this season.

WSU has lost three defensive starters already this year – nose tackle Robert Barber, rush linebacker Logan Tago to suspensions, and nickelback Parker Henry to injury. A fourth, starting will linebacker, Isaac Dotson, went down in the second quarter with an unspecified injury and did not return.

But somehow, someway, the Cougars’ defensive coaches have managed to reshuffle personnel and restock to fill the gaps.

DeRider, who played his prep football at Bellevue High, is the latest example of how WSU coach Mike Leach’s “no excuses, next man up” policy has worked on defense this year.

“We had someone go down and he stepped up. He was the next guy in line,” Peyton Pelluer said. “He’s been here. He’s my year, so we’ve just been waiting for him to get that chance, and I’m just happy to see him make those plays.”

DeRider, a redshirt junior, has been one of the Cougars’ best special teams players over the last two seasons. He forced and recovered a key punt return fumble against UCLA last season, and also recovered another fumble in last year’s game against Arizona State. But he’s had to wait patiently to get on the field at linebacker.

“It was really fun,” DeRider said. “That’s what I started telling a lot of the guys: ‘I’m having a blast out there.’ I wasn’t nervous, I wasn’t scared. It was routine. It was just like practice. Just a different situation and pretty much the same as what we do every day.”

DeRider (6-foot-1, 198 pounds) finished with a career-high four tackles, including one sack for a loss of nine yards.

Fossum’s punt return TD helps Cougs to special teams milestone

DeRider wasn’t the only WSU walk on who stepped up in a big way in the win against Cal.

Sophomore receiver and punt returner Kaleb Fossum’s 75-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter gave the Cougars their first punt return score since 2005.

“We were watching film and we knew the middle was going to be open after we were watching film,” Fossum said. “Credit to the other 10 guys. I didn’t really have to do anything, I just ran straight. They blocked their buts off and gave me a huge lane and I just took it.”

Fossum was so excited about his first college touchdown that he almost forgot that he had to hold for Erik Powell on the point after.

“It was an awesome moment. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life, for sure,” Fossum said.

Fossum gave the Cougars their first punt return touchdown since 2005. That feat, combined with Robert Taylor’s kickoff return for a touchdown against Arizona State – the first kick return WSU had scored on in 13 years – makes this the first season since 1968 that WSU has scored special teams touchdowns on both punt and kickoff returns in the same year.

Mark Williams returned three punts and one kickoff for touchdowns in 1968 and Rick Reed contributed a fourth punt return that year.

Gerard Wicks breaks rushing record that has stood since 1948

Junior running back Gerard Wicks had his 11th rushing touchdown of the season against Cal, and is now tied for fifth-most in WSU single-season history, and the most since Jerome Harrison’s record of 16 in 2005.

Wicks set a new career high with 128 rush yards on nine rush attempts, recorded his second career 100-yard game, and finished with a mind-blowing 14.2 yards per carry average.

That 14.2 yards-per-carry average was a new WSU single game record. The previous high was Don Paul’s 14.0 yards per carry against Oregon in 1948.

“The nose guard was playing really aggressive on (center) Riley (Sorenson). He was over-pursuing,” Wicks said. “So every time he over-pursued, I would just cut in the back door and run off my man.”

More notes:

  • WSU’s 254 rushing yards vs. Cal gives the Cougars three games this season with 200+ rushing yards. They had 280 yards vs. Oregon and 228 vs. Idaho.
  • WSU’s 654 yards total offense tied for sixth in school single game history.
  • QB Luke Falk set a school record with his 22nd career 300-yard game, and upped his career yardage total to 10,035 – third-most in school history.
  • LB Peyton Pelluer made a season-high 12 tackles.