Mata'afa will have to miss the first half of the Cougars' bowl game, as he was ejected in the third quarter of WSU's Apple Cup loss.
Washington State suffered a huge loss early in the third quarter when defensive tackle Hercules Mata’afa was ejected for targeting after a big hit on UW quarterback Jake Browning.
With UW up 24-0, Mata’afa and Dan Ekuale combined to chase down Browning on third-and-8 from the UW 35-yard line, early in the third quarter.
Ekulae hit Browning low as he released the ball, but Mata’afa went in a little higher, and his helmet made contact with Browning’s, knocking the quarterback’s head backwards.
The play was ruled a personal foul with targeting on Mata’afa, and the ruling was upheld after a review.
Under NCAA rules, because the targeting penalty occurred in the second half, Mata’afa will have to sit out the first half of WSU’s bowl game.
Mata’afa entered the game leading WSU with 21.5 TFL and 9.5 sacks. He was replaced by junior Nick Begg, who finished with the Cougars’ only sack of Browning.
Mata’afa later issued an apology on Twitter, saying, “I want to apologize to my coaches and teammates for tonight. Watching the game from the locker room was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever encountered. I want people to know I’m not a dirty player and never have been. Playing through the whistle is how I pride myself though this game and through three years of WSU football.
“Never had the intention to hurt somebody no matter what rivalry was at hand.”
However, Mata’afa’s teammates didn’t think the hit should have been ruled targeting.
“I didn’t think it was targeting, but the refs called it. There’s not much can do but move on,” nickelback Hunter Dale said.
WSU coach Mike Leach declined to specifically comment on Mata’afa’s penalty, but insinuated that he disagreed with it.
“You guys are gonna have to write all the comments in the world on that,” Leach said. “My feelings on what I can talk about, I think the targeting rule is insane, they need to get rid of it. And I think that there’s those who are afraid to say they’re not against it, but quietly are because they think you’ll criticize them and say they’re not sensitive of player safety. Everyone is sensitive of player safety.
“The heart’s in the right place as far as the whole targeting rule thing, but it can’t be effectively administered, generally speaking, not about that specific play. So they need to get rid of that.”