The hopes of winning a Pac-12 title all but vanished for the Washington State football team when it lost last Saturday’s showdown at Oregon, but there is still much on the line when a large group of Cougar seniors play for the last time at Martin Stadium on Friday night against Arizona.
Washington State (5-5, 4-3 Pac-12) can become bowl eligible with a win Friday over Arizona, and it would also give WSU momentum heading into next week’s Apple Cup.
There are 26 WSU players who are designated as seniors or graduate students on the roster, and 14 of them are expected to leave and not take advantage of an extra year of eligibility.
Those 14 will be honored Friday night and include some of the team’s best players, including running backs Max Borghi and Deon McIntosh, receivers Travell Harris and Calvin Jackson Jr., offensive linemen Abe Lucas and Liam Ryan, linebackers Jahad Woods and Justus Rogers, and safeties Daniel Isom, George Hicks III and Tyrone Hill Jr.
Also being honored are backup quarterback Jarrett Guarantano and reserve offensive linemen Austin Martin and Seth Yost.
“Just looking at these names, it’s an integral part of what we’ve been doing, and how we’ve gotten through this transition,” acting head coach Jake Dickert said Monday. “The program that we are today is really because of these men. … I have seen these guys just thrive as leaders, and they give this program, this team and Coug fans everywhere everything they have.
“The biggest thing I would love to see Friday night is that support (of those seniors) being shown. Because I think these guys deserve it. I think they are special people, not just (special) players.”
The group has had to endure two coaching changes (Mike Leach leaving after the 2019 season and Nick Rolovich getting fired at midseason this year) and last year’s oft-interrupted season because of COVID-19 that resulted in just four games being played.
But the final chapter could be memorable, with not only an opportunity to get to a bowl game but the chance to end a seven-game losing streak to Washington.
“It’s weird because it feels like yesterday that I was a true freshman and it feels like yesterday was my first game at Wyoming, and now in the blink of an eye I am in my last game at Martin Stadium,” Borghi told reporters Tuesday. ” … It hasn’t really sunk in. I think it will sink in after the game, and obviously we’ve got to go out on a good note.”
Dickert said he will have the departing seniors give talks to the team Friday night “to give some wisdom and words of advice to the young men in our program.”
“Being in Pullman and at Washington State is a unique experience, and it is a great experience,” Dickert said. “What these guys have been able to do and overcome and build, they’ve set the standard for everyone coming behind them. I think that’s a really powerful thing and we will give these men time to address the team and hopefully say how special this place has been to them.”
For it to be a truly special night for WSU, the Cougars will need to win. They are 15-point favorites against Arizona, which has lost 21 of its past 22 games. But the Wildcats are playing their best football of the season in the past month, beating California and losing close games to Washington, USC and Utah.
“They have kept fighting and they have not quit on this season, and you can see that easily on tape,” Dickert said. “This isn’t going to be any sort of a pushover of a game. Our guys understand that and we’re going to be preparing for a 60-minute football game come Friday night.”