It was legitimate college football.
At 1 a.m. today, more than 800 fans were logged onto CF.C's message boards reading threads containing such words as "bowl," "improvement" and "7 wins." Words that not too long ago seemed improbable. After all, a week ago, the same boards were ordering black veils to wear to the wake that would be the remainder of the Cougars' season.
And then came Saturday.
That's not to say that the Cougars are there yet. Two things stand in the way of them finishing with a winning record, getting to a bowl and stopping all the media and fan chatter about Paul Wulff saving his job. First comes Utah, which has been on an upswing, and a week later the Huskies (6-4) in the Apple Cup at CenturyLink Field.
"It's been a long road," Wulff admitted in a postgame radio interview. "It's very refreshing to come in and beat a football team."
AND BECAUSE OF THAT, for a change, there were multiple good things to discuss on a morning after the Cougars pulled out a win against a team which was ranked as recently as the beginning of the month.
Redshirt freshman Connor Halliday, who carried the crimson torch for all but two possessions, garners much of the credit.
"You get on a roll and your confidence starts growing, you just start making plays," Wulff said after the game in explaining that he had planned on playing Halliday on the third possession, then decide how long he would stay in the game.
"Sometimes certain people give you more confidence the way they play," Wulff added. "And I think Connor gave that (to us) tonight with some early throws."
For his part, Halliday was rather nonchalant about the Martin Stadium miracle he had just performed.
"I just wanted to get a chance," he said. "We knew we could do this. It's just coming out and believing. We came out flat against Cal, and you can't do that in the Pac-12."
ON THE OTHER END of many Halliday throws was sophomore Marquess Wilson, who finished the night with 223 yards on eight catches and three touchdowns, including the 85-yard bomb that kicked off the Cougars' rally. Wilson, whose season total reached 1,197 yards on Saturday, has also now surpassed Brandon Gibson's single-season school record of 1,180 receiving yards set in 2007.
The Cougars took their first lead when Wilson caught an 18-yard pass for a 16-13 edge with 1:15 left in the half.
"It's always great to have a game like that and help the team out," Wilson said. "Everyone played hard today."
As for his own performance, Wilson said that in his own mind, "I'm catching every ball thrown to me. If it's a jump ball, I'm coming down with it."
Senior Isiah Barton added seven catches for 155 yards, including the go-ahead touchdown, a 17-yard catch with 8 minutes, 55 seconds left in the game.
Senior Jared Karstetter added another six catches for 63 yards, including a key 20-yard grab late in the fourth quarter that gave WSU a first down at its own 46-yard line.
ACCOLADES ALSO GO to the defense, which managed to hold the Sun Devils to just 60 yards on the ground.
The Cougars stuffed the run early, which resulted in the Sun Devils all but giving up the scheme for most of the time left. Just last week at UCLA, Arizona State running back Cameron Marshall amassed 168 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. Saturday, he finished with 37 yards and a touchdown, his second lowest average per carry (2.3) of the season.
"We were starting to get down last week," said junior defensive tackle Anthony Laurenzi. "We didn't play well at all. We want to win out."
Playing on a short field marred by poor kickoffs was a challenge for the defense, but Laurenzi said that it "kind of gave us more initiative to stop them."
Wulff extended his credit to the 27,213 fans in attendance for a frosty Dad's Weekend.
"We have great fans," he said. "This is the youngest team in the conference. Good things are in store for us."
His 85-yard first-quarter touchdown marked his seventh career touchdown catch of 50 yards or more, tying him with Tim Stallworth for the most since 1984. Stallworth accomplished his seven catches in four years.
Wilson caught three touchdown passes in the game, becoming the first wide receiver to do so since Chris Jordan against Idaho in 2006.