This play will live in infamy

PULLMAN — Aire Justin called it ridiculous. Nolan Washington called it embarrassing. And Paul Wulff summed it up simply as a stop "we had to get and one we should have got." But didn't. In a 20-13 game, myriad plays no doubt proved critical to the final outcome, but there was no denying where WSU lost it Saturday to Cal in balmy Martin Stadium.

Leading 14-13 early in the 4th quarter, Cal faced a 3rd-and-20 deep in their own territory -- a circumstance that had the crimson faithful and the WSU offense thinking big.

The Bears ran a basic screen play, with Brock Mansion passing to Jeremy Ross who appeared to be headed for just a modest gain. Ross, however, never gave up on the play and continued churning his legs and moving up field.

Yard by yard, with first one, then two and, eventually, eight Cougar defenders draped on him he plowed his way 21 yards to the first down.

Ross was on his feet for what seemed like an eternity. It looked like something straight out of the pee-wee leagues.

"... the ball carrier carried half our defense like 15-20 yards," said the incredulous Wulff.

"I think we tried so hard to strip the ball, we had been talking about taking the ball away and I think that's what people were thinking," said Aire Justin. "We were just holding him up trying to get the ball rather than getting him down and you see what happened with that."

A few minutes later, running back Shane Vareen capped off the 10 play, 65 yard drive with a one-yard TD run, pushing the Golden Bear lead to 20-13.

"We just didn't get him down," Nolan Washington said. "We have to get him down there and it's embarrassing. That's on the players, there's no call for that. That's just determination and we have to make that play."

Washington was visibly upset during the post game news conference. "The play" was still on his mind. Although players like to think one play doesn't determine the outcome of a game, Washington did not hesitate in admitting that the blown tackles on Ross's 21-yard scrum was the reason why the Cougars remained winless in Pac-10 play for the 16th straight time.

"I mean yes," Washington said. "It's 3rd-and-20 and if we can get him down the offense gets the ball and who knows what happens. Again, it's on us. You can't blame Coach Wulff, you can't blame Coach Ball, that's on us. I'm mad about it because I was on the field and I didn't help get him down. That's on me, that's on this defense and we have to take ownership for that."

Other than the blunder on Ross' play, the defense had by far one of its best performances of the season. The stars on defense were starting linebacker C.J. Mizell who led the team with 12 tackles, including a sack on Mansion in the first quarter.

Meanwhile, Justin, who started at corner in place of injured Daniel Simmons, had the game of his life. Things didn't start off hot for Justin when he was beat on a 50 yard pass play from Mansion to WR Marvin Jones leading to a Vareen two yard TD. After that, Justin went off by hauling in an interception, and recording a 10-yard sack. On special teams, he added a 33-yard punt return which led to a 51 yard field goal by freshman kicker Andrew Furney.

"I thought Aire did a great job," Wulff said. "He gave up the one fly ball in the first half and then he played well. His cover skills were good which we knew. His speed is obvious on the field, you could see that in our punt return game and I really thought he played real well."

"Friday, Coach Sears came up to me and just let me know that Daniel (Simmons) wasn't able to go and I would be the starter so I was trying to take advantage of that."

Justin was dubbed WSU's the player of the game.

As well as the defense performed, another storyline for the Cougars was their lack of execution on offense for the second straight week. QB Jeff Tuel finished with a season-low 92 passing yards, failing to throw for 200 yards for the first time this year. He connected on only 9 of his 25 pass attempts.

The defense set up the offense with several situations to put points on the board, but the offense sputtered time and time again. On one play right before the end of the half, Washington came down with a big-time interception off Mansion giving the Cougars the ball at the Cal 40 yard line.

The Cougars couldn't capitalize and had to settle for a 50-yard field attempt from Furney. The true Frosh who connected from 51 a few minutes earlier went wide right .

In the third quarter, following Justin's interception, the Cougs had the ball in California territory again and couldn't get into any type of offensive rhythm. Just 13 yards on 7 plays later, WSU had to settle for a 48-yard FG from Furney.

"We're struggling trying to capitalize on opportunities when we get them," Wulff said. "We had a lot of opportunities crossing the 50 whether it be a turnover or us getting the ball over.

"(it was) Very frustrating because the coaches hammer us on winning the turnover battle first of all," Tuel said. "They gave us statistics where if you win the turnover battle 80 percent of the time you win the game or something like that. We got a few field goals out of it but we couldn't get seven points so it's definitely frustrating because the defense played their butts off today."

The Cougars' 10-7 lead going into halftime was Wulff's first lead over a FBS team in his three years as WSU head coach. Previous to Saturday, the only other lead Wulff and his staff have held was against FCS team Portland State in 2008 when the Cougs went into the locker room up 17-3.

As for Wulff, he was straight and to the point on his emotions following the loss.

"It hurts a lot," Wulff said. "This one's hurts as much as any by a long ways just because we were right in it doing all the right things and we shot ourselves in the foot. We did a poor job in the third quarter coming out flat on offense and defense, that was the turning point.

"We're just not a very mature team and it's real frustrating," Wulff said. "We're going into half time, we're doing alright and we just don't know how to handle ourselves yet when we're doing some good things. We have to grow up."


- DT Anthony Laurenzi started in place of usual starter Brandon Rankin and had 3 tackles and a blocked PAT. He also was flagged for a critical penalty in the game's waning moments that allowed Cal to run out the clock. Rankin came off the bench and saw plenty of action at both DT and DE.

- Injuries continue to haunt the Cougars who saw three more players leave the field Saturday in WR Gino Simone (concussion), RB Marcus Richmond (hamstring) and RB Arthur Burns (leg).

- Starting Cougar left tackle John Fullington had a tough game all around and a hellish third quarter in particular when he was flagged for a hop block, a false start, and a holding penalty that was declined. Although Wulff didn't go into specifics, he did mention in his post game conference that the chop block penalty was one of the key mistakes on the afternoon. Fullington wasn't the only WSU true freshman to take his lumps. Receiver Marquess Wilson dropped two critical balls for first downs on the Cougars' last possession of the game.

- Punter Reid Forrest continues to be a consistent star for the Cougars. The senior averaged 48.5 yards on his eight punts and had an eye-poppingl 84 (yes 84) yard punt in the second half that resulted in a touchback and has old timers recalling a 1977 game against Cal in which Gavin Hedrick fired off similarly monstrous punts.

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