"We've been playing well," WSU sophomore cornerback Nolan Washington said in a postgame radio interview. "When it comes down to a field goal, it hurts."
WSU put itself in position to win when it stopped John White IV short on third down. The Cougars then used their final timeout and regained possession with 52 seconds remaining and trailing 27-24. A 24-yard completion from redshirt freshman quarterback Connor Halliday to senior wide receiver Jared Karstetter gave WSU possession at its own 49. But on the ensuing play, Karstetter beat Mo Lee down the right sideline and it appeared he might run into the end zone for the game-winning score.
Instead, he stepped out of bounds at the 7-yard line -- making sure he stopped the clock.
"That one is going to haunt me," Karstetter said upon reflection. "I feel like I could've scored."
Halliday then found sophomore wide receiver Marquess Wilson for a 6-yard pass, but he was forced to spike the ball without a timeout. Karstetter, who had a team-high 111 yards on six receptions, was convinced his teammate crossed the goal line. Wulff said he could not tell from where he was standing.
But the play, strangely, was not reviewed and without a timeout, WSU was forced to settle for a 17-yard field goal by sophomore Andrew Furney as time expired.
So much for momentum.
The Cougars lost the coin toss and two incompletions -- one being an illegal forward pass by Halliday -- put them out of field-goal range.
"Those were the two worst executed plays I've seen all season," radio analyst and former WSU coach Jim Walden said on the postgame show. "I would've liked to have seen a run."
WSU coach Paul Wulff said the overtime failure was the result of execution errors. He said Halliday looked the wrong direction on first down when redshirt freshman running back Rickey Galvin was open.
"He's going to grow from it," he said. "Connor will be better for this."
Halliday, who completed 21 of 48 passes for 290 yards, then was intercepted by Lee, which essentially sealed the loss. Halliday threw two touchdowns, but was intercepted four times.
The Cougars might not have needed their biggest comeback since defeating Colorado 31-27 on Oct. 1, when they overcame their first double-digit fourth-quarter deficit to win for the first time since 1984, with better special teams play. In addition to surrendering a fake punt for a touchdown in the first half, WSU punt returner Leon Brooks fumbled, which was recovered by Utah's Patrick Greene at the Cougars' 37. Six plays later, White scored on a 3-yard run to give the Utes a 20-10 lead with 7:15 minutes remaining in regulation.
"That was a big play," Wulff said. "You cannot expect to win games if you turnover the ball like that."
SPECIAL TEAMS, WHICH directly cost WSU 14 points, might be the biggest culprit behind the Cougars not heading to a bowl game for an eighth consecutive year. After all, an inconsistent offense did just enough to keep the Cougars close.
Both WSU and the Utes (7-4, 4-4) only needed 37 seconds to exchange touchdowns. The Cougars got theirs on a 47-yard trick play when redshirt freshman wide receiver Kristoff Williams found classmate Bobby Ratliff for a touchdown to cut their deficit to 20-17. But White, who finished with 186 yards and two touchdowns on 42 carries, immediately responded with a 56-yard touchdown. Both scoring plays were set up by 15-yard penalties on the other team that gave them possession near midfield.
The latter score occurred when true freshman linebacker Chester Sua, who started for injured Sekope Kaufusi, missed a tackle that would have saddled White with a loss. With the exception of that play, White was held to 3.5 yards per carry.
"I thought they tackled well for the most part," Wulff said.
But similar to the 28-25 loss Oct. 8 at UCLA, WSU missed several opportunities that could have put itself in position to win. Utah was penalized 11 times for 105 yards and seemed to struggle to adjust to the snow as it lost fumbles on its first two possessions of the second half. On the latter fumble by quarterback Jon Hays, which was recovered by sophomore linebacker C.J. Mizell, the Cougars took over at the Utes' 20. But they were forced to settle for a 20-yard field goal by Furney to take a 13-10 lead.
WSU's inability to score a touchdown on that possession proved critical as Petersen converted 33- and 45-yard field goals on Utah's next two possessions. The latter attempt just was inside the right goal post.
But it was the five turnovers and breakdowns on special teams that proved to be too much to overcome despite a solid defensive effort. Utah, which did not have any passing yards in the first 16 minutes, had its biggest play of the first half when punter Sean Sellwood found Luke Matthews, who eluded several defenders en route to a 49-yard touchdown. Outside of that play, the Utes produced a modest 350 yards of total offense.
The Cougars needed just more than one minute to respond, though. They drove down to the Utes' 6-yard line mostly through 24- and 28-yard pass plays from redshirt freshman Connor Halliday to wide receivers Bobby Ratliff and Marquess Wilson. WSU then scored on the ensuing play on a Halliday pass to Wilson to tie the score, 7-7, at halftime.
"(The defense has) done a great job and obviously have kept us in the game," Wulff said during a halftime television interview. "I'm glad we're still in this game with the three turnovers."
But more miscues in the second half means the Cougars, in the words of sophomore cornerback Nolan Washington, will "have to flush this one and get ready for the Seattle Bowl next week" against the reeling Huskies (6-5, 4-4).
TURNING POINT OF THE GAME: WSU put itself out of field-goal range on a penalty and then Halliday was intercepted in overtime.
CATCH OF THE GAME: Karstetter's catch down the right sideline could have won the game, but he stepped out at the Utah 7-yard line. The Cougars were forced to settle for a Furney field goal that sent the game into overtime.
STAT OF THE GAME: The Cougars turned the ball over five times, perhaps most significantly on a fumbled punt return by Brooks that set up a touchdown that gave the Utes a 10-point fourth-quarter lead.
MISLEADING STAT OF THE GAME: Utah was penalized 10 times, but WSU did not do enough to take advantage of it.
LEADING TACKLERS: True freshman linebacker Chester Sua had a team-high 10 tackles. Senior linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis added eight, while junior defensive end Adam Coerper had seven.
NEXT GAME: The Cougars close out their season at 4:30 p.m. Saturday against Washington at CenturyLink Field (TV: Versus).
Heartbreak on the Palouse
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