As bad as Washington State's defense has been on third down the past two seasons, the numbers don't lie — the Cougars have been even worse this year, failing to get off the field 47 percent of the time. Until Saturday.

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PULLMAN — As bad as Washington State’s defense has been on third down the past two seasons, the numbers don’t lie — the Cougars have been even worse this year, failing to get off the field 47 percent of the time.

Until Saturday.

After allowing conversions on two of California’s first three third-down opportunities, the Cougs dug in, forcing the Bears to try a field goal (which missed) and punt three times. And you had to like WSU’s chances midway through the fourth quarter when the Bears faced third-and-20 near midfield, clinging to a one-point lead.

But quarterback Brock Mansion made a short flip to Jeremy Ross on an inside screen and Ross milked 21 yards out of it — the last 10 or so against a pile of a half-dozen Cougs being driven back on their heels.

Five plays later, the Bears were in the end zone with the final points of a 20-13 victory.

“We just didn’t get him down — no excuses,” said cornerback Nolan Washington, who had an interception earlier in the game. “I thought I heard a whistle at one point, but we have to get him down. That’s embarrassing. We have to make that play.

“If we get him down, the offense gets the ball back and who knows what happens? That’s on the players. You can’t blame Coach (Paul) Wulff, you can’t blame Coach (Chris) Ball. There’s no call for that.”

Coming through

Redshirt junior Aire Justin hasn’t played a lot in his four years in Pullman, with nagging injuries and a coaching change derailing his opportunities.

But he was handed one against California when usual starting cornerback Daniel Simmons went down with a shoulder injury near the end of practice Thursday and Justin did what he could to earn more chances.

But none of his five tackles, not even his first career sack, were bigger than his interception.

Covering Shane Vereen out of the backfield late in the third quarter, Justin ran with the running back.

Mansion tried to fit a pass in but Justin, turning at just the right moment, grabbed the ball before it could hit the ground. After a replay, his first career interception was in the books.

“Coach is always is always harping on the fade, just stick them, get in (step) and look. I tried to do that,” Justin said. “I just tried to have my good base, turned and looked, and it was right there.”