Cougars declaw the Cats

Washington State jumped out to a 28-0 first quarter lead and hung on to defeat Arizona 48-21. The Cougars repeatedly capitalized on third down conversions and benefited from a handful of dropped passes to hand the Cats their first loss under John Mackovic.

Dave Minnich led the way with four touchdowns and 123 yards rushing to lead the Cougars. Washington State is now 4-0 and 2-0 in the Pac-10. As a team the Cougars converted 12-of-21 third down conversions, including six in a row on a key touchdown drive.

It was one of the wildest quarters in Arizona history. It was very fitting for a series that has seen its share of wackiness. Before the first fifteen minutes expired, there were six touchdowns, two of them defensive, 264 yards of total offense and five turnovers.

Jason Johnson made his first key mistake of the young season and it was costly. On the third play of the game Johnson threw into traffic and Cougar free safety Lamont Thompson picked off the pass and scampered 36 yards for the touchdown.

"It was a new play," Johnson said. "They blitzed it and I made a bad throw."

It didn't take long for the Cougars to strike again. On their first play from scrimmage, Wazzu quarterback Jason Gesser connected with Mike Bush for a 49-yard gain. Five plays later Dave Minnich went around the left side and strolled in for a nine yard score.

The early damage wasn't done. On the ensuing kickoff, Mike Price's squad attempted and recovered an on-side kick. With good field position the Cougars went back to work. The Cats stuffed Bush on a screen pass, but he soon caught a long sideline pattern that set up another Minnich score. The Cougars suckered the Arizona line into the backfield, freeing up Minnich for a screen pass. Minnich collected the Gesser toss and raced 29 yards before diving for the touchdown.

Arizona finally got the ball back, but Johnson's next pass was deflected and Washington State capitalized with an interception and the ball at the Wildcat eight. Bush continued to punish the Cats. Bush held on to a Gesser strike despite being sandwiched between two Wildcat defensive backs. Suddenly with a little over seven minutes gone by the Cougars had a seemingly insurmountable 28-0 lead.

"I felt like I didn't do the things I needed to do to win tonight," said Johnson. "I didn't play up to my potential."

Down but not out, the Cats came right back. Johnson went back to the air and connected on all four of his passes to march the Cats down to the Cougar 31. Clarence Farmer took the toss to the left side, following a fleet of blockers, before cutting back to the right and rolling 31 yards for the score.

"We maintained our composure," Farmer said. "It wasn't like this team was so powerful."

Austin Uku and the Arizona defense decided to that they could score as well as the Cougars' unit. Johnny Jackson shed his blocker and pulverized Gesser. The hit jarred the ball lose and Uku scooped it up for a score. Suddenly the Cougar lead was cut to 14, 28-14.

After a three-and-out stand by the defense the momentum seemed to have swung in the Cats' favor. Two good runs by Farmer had the Cats in good field position, but Johnson threw his third interception of the first frame and the Cougars were back in business at midfield. Gesser returned the favor and threw a long interception to Michael Jolivette.

A few series later the Cats began moving the ball again. On third and long, Johnson hit Andrae Thurman over the middle for a thirty-yard gain. A fifteen-yard penalty for leading with the helmet was assessed on the Cougars and the Cats found themselves deep in Cougar territory. After gaining a first down the Cats went for broke. Johnson pump faked and Bobby Wade slipped behind his defender, gathering in a 23-yard touchdown score. Suddenly the Cats were down only 28-21.

The Cougars would not be held down. The Cougars converted six times on third down on their way to an 18 play, 8:06 drive. The Cats appeared to have the Cougars stopped, but the Cats were flagged for holding and the Cougars continued to move. The defense continued to push the Cougars back, but on third and 17, Minnich took the draw play 27 yards for another first down. Minnich capped the drive by taking a toss sweep six yards around the left end for the team's fifth touchdown of the night.

"They ate too much time off the clock," Farmer said of the drive. "We just wanted time on the clock to score."

The third quarter was the antithesis of the first. The Cougars took the opening kickoff and drove deep into Arizona territory before settling for a field goal. It was the only scoring of the quarter. Arizona had a few chances, but dropped passes plagued the Cats comeback bid.

The Cougars continued to convert third downs and Minnich scored his fourth touchdown on a two-yard plunge.


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