Gardner Minshew accounts for three touchdowns and the Cougars hold off a late two-point conversion for 28-26 victory over Iowa State, giving the team a school-record 11 victories this season.
SAN ANTONIO — It’s all they talked about the last three weeks. Now, the 2018 Washington State Cougars have etched it into stone.
The winningest team in school history.
The Cougars captured an elusive 11th win Friday night in the Alamo Bowl, defeating Big 12 opponent Iowa State 28-26 in front of 60,675 fans at the Alamodome.
WSU was targeting only one record ahead of its fourth consecutive bowl game, but a few others came as a sweet bonus.
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The No. 12 Cougars set a program wins record by hitting the magic 11. Quarterback Gardner Minshew became the Pac-12’s season leader in passing yards (4,776) and completions (468), and claimed Alamo Bowl offensive MVP honors after accounting for three touchdowns. Freshman running back Max Borghi tied Deon Burnett’s freshman record with his 12th touchdown of the season.
WSU won its second postseason game under coach Mike Leach and grabbed the Pac-12’s second postseason win in the last 12 tries.
“I want to say thank you to these coaches, this university and these fans for taking me in,” Minshew said. “So glad to be a part of this. One thing I’ve always been told is to leave a place better than we found it. This place could be really special.”
Friday’s Alamo Bowl produced theatrics early and late.
Before either team could put points on the board, the Cougars and No. 25 Cyclones managed to combine for three turnovers.
WSU running back James Williams had the ball knocked out of his arms on the fourth play of the game and Iowa State cornerback Brian Peavy recovered, giving the Cyclones possession at the 49-yard line.
The Cyclones kept the ball for two more plays before giving it up. Freshman Brock Purdy misfired on a pass toward the sideline and Cougars safety Jalen Thompson intercepted the ball on WSU’s 40-yard line.
After driving 64 yards in eight plays, another Iowa State drive was capped by a turnover. Another underthrown pass from Purdy fell into the arms of WSU corner Marcus Strong, who caught the ball at the 29-yard line and ran it back 71 yards the other way. The pick-six, however, was negated by an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty when officials flagged Strong for taunting.
The Cougars were still able to punch in the game’s first touchdown. Blown coverage in the ISU secondary allowed Renard Bell to break free into the end zone and haul in a 22-yard touchdown from Minshew.
Iowa State took care of its turnover problem, but the Cyclones committed a few more mistakes before the first half ended. A pair of ISU defenders – linebacker Willie Harvey and defensive end Enyi Uwazurike – drew targeting penalties after helmet-to-helmet hits on Minshew. Both were ejected and the Cougars capitalized twice, scoring on Minshew’s 7-yard scramble and then on a high 9-yard pass from Minshew to Dezmon Patmon.
The Cyclones booted a 51-yard field goal to close the gap to 21-10 at halftime, then continued to chip away in the third quarter. ISU outscored WSU 10-0 in the period, with David Montgomery’s 8-yard touchdown run and Connor Assalley’s 23-yard field goal.
But the Cougars, sturdy in the fourth quarter all season, came up with one more key turnover.
Linebacker Peyton Pelluer, the game’s defensive MVP, poked the ball out of Montgomery’s arms and the Cougars recovered on the ISU 30-yard line. Pelluer finished with a game-high 11 tackles, adding one sack and 1.5 tackles-for-loss.
WSU punched in the decisive touchdown on the next drive, scoring on Borghi’s record-tying 10-yard run.
The Cyclones got into the end zone once more, on a 1-yard keeper from Purdy, but the Cougars smothered the ensuing two-point conversion when Willie Taylor III pinned Montgomery after a reception.
“We didn’t make all the tackles tonight, but we made them when they truly counted,” Pelluer said. “And that was one of them.”