Erik Powell connected on five field goals for Cougars, but missed a 43-yarder that could have won it for WSU.
PULLMAN — On Halloween night in Martin Stadium, Washington State came just one 43-yard field goal short of beating No. 8 Stanford in a back-and-forth game that featured little offense until the third quarter.
WSU sophomore kicker Erik Powell, who already had tied a school record with five field goals, pulled the potential game-winner wide right on the game’s final play to allow Stanford (7-1 overall, 6-0 Pac-12) to escape with the 30-28 victory.
Until that point, Powell had connected from 46, 23, 47 and twice from 28 yards to give WSU a 12-3 halftime lead, and then extend the Cougars’ lead to 15-3 right after the half. That was WSU’s largest lead of the game. The 47-yarder tied the career-long he hit at Rutgers earlier this season.
Unfortunately for the Cougars, though, he couldn’t come through at the end, and the Cougars failed to hold off a fierce rally from Stanford. The Cardinal intercepted WSU quarterback Luke Falk twice in the second half to sneak away with the victory and preserve its stranglehold of the Pac-12 North.
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WSU (5-3, 3-2) led 28-27 with 3:27 remaining, but Quenton Meeks intercepted Falk for the second time to give Stanford the ball at the WSU 39-yard line. WSU’s defense prevented a touchdown, but Cardinal kicker Conor Ukropina hit a 19-yard field goal that held up as the game-winner.
“There’s a lot of positives,” said WSU coach Mike Leach. “We played tough, tough and reckless, and there’s a lot of positives on defense.”
As WSU jumped out to its 15-3 lead on five field goals, though, Leach saw a problem.
“We should have scored touchdowns in the red zone,” he said.
Powell, though, did his job brilliantly, until just four seconds were left in the game.
“He put us in the situation to win that game,” Falk said. “He is a great kicker. I told him that in the locker room and that he’s got the next one.”
WSU’s defense was stout for most of the night, holding Stanford to 312 total yards (compared to 442 for WSU). And the Cougars had 26 first downs to 15 for Stanford.
“Our defense played better than everyone else on the field and kept us in the game,” said WSU receiver Gabe Marks.
Stanford’s offense was ineffective in the first half, but the momentum shifted the Cardinal’s way toward the end of the third quarter. The momentum was helped when WSU seemingly forced running back Christian McCaffrey to fumble after a reception, but officials ruled it a completed pass, saying McCaffrey was out of bounds before the ball popped out.
From there, Stanford scored 17 consecutive points. Ukropina kicked a 32-yard field goal and quarterback Kevin Hogan scampered for touchdown runs of 59 yards and 6 yards to give Stanford a 27-22 lead entering the fourth quarter.
“Football is a game of inches, it comes down to four plays. We know that,” said WSU linebacker Jeremiah Allison. “We have to win. At the end of the day the only thing that matters is wins and losses.”
The Cougars’ offense sleepwalked through the first quarter, totaling minus-4 yards and going three-and-out three times. WSU’s offense did not successfully convert a third down until the 12:39 mark in the second quarter, and its sole points in the first quarter came from a 46-yard field goal by Powell.
Alex Grinch, the defensive coordinator of the Cougars, had his unit motivated from the start to pick up the slack in the first half for the slow-starting offense.
With the driving rain affecting both offenses early on. Falk was 1 for 6 to start the game and his receivers struggled to secure the ball. Even McCaffrey slipped once on the waterlogged turf and fell while trying to cut.
WSU’s defense bottled up McCaffrey, Stanford’s Heisman Trophy candidate, holding him to 52 rushing yards by halftime. He entered the game averaging 136.1 rushing yards, and finished with 107 — 30 of which came on one long run in the fourth quarter.
Hogan did more damage with his 112 yards rushing on 14 carries while also going 10-for-19 passing for 86 yards.
Falk had another busy night, going 35 for 61 for 354 yards, but his two touchdown passes were offset by two interceptions. Dom Williams was the leading receiver with seven catches for 94 yards.
The Cougars’ defense forced turnovers on back-to-back drives in the first quarter, and had a pick-six taken away in the second quarter after referees reviewed the play and determined Hogan’s pass to Michael Rector hit the ground before WSU’s Parker Henry could scoop-and-score.
The WSU defense’s two first-quarter turnovers came when Destiny Vaeao strip-sacked Hogan, and Shalom Luani recovered.
Then, even though the offense couldn’t capitalize off that drive, the defense promptly delivered another gift in the form of an interception from nickelback Henry that gave WSU the ball at the Stanford 31.
The offense managed to move the ball only 2 yards on the ensuing drive, but it started deep enough in Stanford territory that it set up Powell’s 46-yard field goal anyway.
Saturday night marked the first time since the 2013 Apple Cup that WSU’s defense had held a Power Five opponent without a touchdown in the first half.