'Wulff probably most relieved man in U.S.'

IT MIGHT HAVE lacked the pizzazz of a dramatic Apple Cup win. And yes, it was ugly. But Washington State fans might accept even the tiniest of steps at this point, particularly when the result is a victory. The Cougars scored 16 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to earn a 23-22 win Saturday against Montana State at Martin Stadium.

Punched in the mouth early, it took a courageous and determined effort to overcome WSU's largest fourth-quarter deficit since a 49-42 win in 1984 against Stanford. Similar to last year's dramatic overtime victory against Southern Methodist, the Cougars (1-1) capitalized on a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions.

With WSU trailing 22-7 entering the fourth quarter, sophomore quarterback Jeff Tuel put his team into position to win with touchdown passes to tight end Andrei Lintz and wide receiver Jared Karstetter. But a failed two-point conversion left the Cougars with a 22-20 deficit and 5 minutes, 6 seconds on the clock.

Enter the defense.

STRONG SPECIAL-TEAMS play, highlighted by a tackle from true freshman Deone Bucannon, resulted in the Bobcats starting the ensuing drive at their own 10. Two plays later, MSU quarterback Denarius McGhee's pass was intercepted by junior linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis. But the Cougars had to settle for an 18-yard field goal by senior Nico Grasu that gave them a 23-22 lead with 1:55 left.

It was more than enough time for MSU to depress WSU, and it almost happened. The Bobcats had second-and-two at the Cougars' 26 and it seemed almost a matter of time before kicker Jason Cunningham attempted the game winner. But corner Nolan Washington tipped McGhee's pass and true freshman linebacker C.J. Mizell intercepted it. The fourth quarter on the whole featured a more aggressive Cougar D.

"We just came after them," WSU co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball said during a postgame radio interview. "Time is running out and we have to make something happen. The kids executed and we got a hand on the ball."

The Bobcats had a final opportunity at their own 25 with 16 seconds left. But time expired and Wazzu ended a 10-game losing streak. The Cougars' last win came Sept. 19, 2009, against SMU.

"I know Paul Wulff is probably the most relieved man in the United States right now," radio color commentator and former WSU coach Jim Walden said. "As long as you're playing, you've always got a chance."

WSU NEEDED IT as its offense again put the Cougars in a difficult position early.

For a second straight week, it began on the Cougars' first offensive play. During their 65-17 loss in the opener at Oklahoma State, it was a botched exchange between quarterback Jeff Tuel and running back James Montgomery. This time, Tuel threw an interception to give the Bobcats possession at WSU's 23-yard line.

The Cougars only led once before the final minutes, 7-6, on a 3-yard run by Montgomery in the second quarter. Buoyed by a 70-yard run on that drive, Montgomery finished with 116 yards on 20 carries.

Even with that highlight, WSU still was outgained 407-316 and based on the first two games, it's hard to figure out how the Cougars can fix enough of it to win another game. With the possible exception of special teams, there remain myriad issues with this team.

But on a day when James Madison became the latest Football Championship Subdivision team to upset a major program, No. 13 ranked Virginia Tech, the Cougars at least can take solace in a win -- even when isn't the prettiest.

"You got to have those," Wulff said. "That's part of development. It's nice to make mistakes and still find a way to win football games.

"Hopefully we can really build off this game."

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