CF.C at 15: Thee moments in Cougar football

THE ASSIGNMENT was clear, yet open ended: Pick the 15 most exhilarating moments in Cougar football since was launched 15 years ago this month. And in case there's any confusion, the words "exhilarating" and "moments" can be defined any way you wish.

So when several old warhorses – namely me, Paul Sorensen, Jim Walden, Barry Bolton and Howie Stalwick – each came up with our respective lists, it was downright fascinating to see both how similar they were yet how differently the events are described.

Those different starting points were especially apparent when putting my list side-by-side with Walden's. He began seven of his choices with the words "team victory over," while every one of mine began with a particular player. That's a coach's view vs. a fan's if ever there was.

Ninth in a series of feature stories (15 for 15) CF.C is running in the 15 days leading to its 15th anniversary on August 15.

And that is only fitting because our roots in the Cougs are all different: fan, former player, former coach, editor, and long-time reporter.

The 2003 Cougar victory over Texas in the Holiday Bowl offers another case in point how one event can be remembered differently. Walden prominently mentioned punter Kyle Basler's amazing work, while Sorensen focused on the blitz packages dialed up by Bill Doba and Robb Akey.

While we didn't all agree on the choices, the order, or how to define them, it was pretty clear which games and plays left the most indelible marks in the Era.

With co-founder Greg Witter serving as final arbiter, here is our list of the 15 most exhilarating moments in Cougar football since CF.C debuted on the Web in August 1998.

No. 1: Drew Dunning's pair of 35-yard field goals against USC, 2002
It's hard to separate two of the most critical field goals in program history because neither can rightly be remembered without the other. Down 27-24 with 1:50 left in regulation, a Cougar Nation collectively holds its breath as Dunning's tipped field goal stumbles through the uprights, tying this donnybrook of a game between the Pac-10's two best teams. Minutes later, the Issaquah native was sliding on the midfield Cougar logo in celebration of his winning kick in overtime. CF.C called that 30-27 victory over the Trojans "the greatest Cougar game ever played." Ten-plus years later and that declaration still rings true.


No. 2: Rien Long stuffs USC in overtime, 2002
The eventual Outland Trophy winner sacked Southern Cal QB Carson Palmer for a seven-yard loss, then put a body slam on back Justin Fargas that put SC an additional 5 in the red, thus turning a doable 40-yard overtime field attempt by Trojan kicker Ryan Killeen into a difficult 52-yarder goal…wide right. Dunning, on the other foot, was money for the Cougs. The victory put WSU in the driver's seat for the Rose Bowl

No. 3: D.D. Acholonu ends last Chance for Texas, Holiday Bowl, 2003
He'd already halted one potential game-tying Longhorn drive by sacking Texas QB Chance Mock and forcing a fumble. But it was his final sack of Mock at midfield, as time expired, that was the perfect punctuation mark on the second-biggest victory in Cougar history, the Wazzu upset of the fifth-ranked Longhorns, 28-20. Cougar punter Kyle Basler was voted defensive MVP after placing four punts inside the 5-yard line and a fifth inside the 13. Sammy Moore was the offensive MVP with 12 receptions for 66 yards and two TDs plus 68 yards in punt returns.

No. 4: Jason Gesser limps past UCLA for Rose Bowl berth, 2002
Suffering a severe high ankle sprain just two weeks prior (not to mention an assortment of other ailments), the Hurlin' Hawaiian would not let a bulky-brace and obvious pain keep him from leading Wazzu past UCLA, 48-27, to secure the conference crown and a return trip to Pasadena a month later to play in the Granddaddy of Them All. His performance was called "heroic" by teammate Ike Brown and he was dubbed "the toughest guy in college football" by UCLA cornerback Ricky Manning. Other highlights included Collin Henderson's 66-yard TD pass to Mike Bush on the game's second snap and Erik Coleman's pick-six in the fourth quarter.


No. 5: Alex Brink to Brandon Gibson for Apple Cup victory, 2007
Brink hit Gibson on a 35-yard throwing strike with 31 seconds remaining, ensuring a Cougar victory, 42-35, and making the 100th Apple Cup one of the most exciting ever. Gibson was so wide open that Cougar fans in Husky Stadium started screaming the moment the ball left Brink's hand. It turned out to be a fitting going away present to (or from?) head coach Bill Doba and a joyful, shining moment on the eve of what would become the darkest era of Cougar football.

No. 6: Toni Pole rumbles in OT to set up Apple Cup win, 2012
If the big man doesn't get run down at the 4-yard-line after plucking Keith Price's errant pass (thank you Logan Mayes!) out of the air on the first play of overtime, his Apple Cup heroics would no doubt top this list. No matter. It was still unforgettable. Indeed, watching a 300-pounder take off with the ball for 60 yards is memorable enough. Watching him do it after his team charged back from an 18-point third-quarter deficit against the arch rival to tie the game in regulation on an Andrew Furney field goal is the stuff of lore. Now add in the fact the program and its fans desperately needed something to cheer about after years of toil and it becomes almost epic in magnitude.

No. 7: Mike Leach named WSU head-coach, 2011
Will we ever place Coach Leach in the hallowed company of Crimson coaching legends Babe Hollingbery, Lone Star Dietz or Mike Price? Hard to say, but there's no denying this was the biggest coaching hire in school history -- one that set off a near-euphoric reaction among the Cougar faithful.

No. 8: Alex Brink to Trandon Harvey for Apple Cup victory, 2005
With just under a minute and a half to go and the Cougs down 22-19, Harvey took a simple swing pass from Brink, picked up a nifty block from receiving mate Greg Prator, and flew down the left sideline of Husky Stadium for a 39-yard deciding touchdown.


No. 9: Nico Grasu hits three clutch field goals to win double-OT Apple Cup, 2008
Like Dunning's two key field goals against USC in 2002, it's hard to separate Grasu's three boots in the Cougars' 16-13 double overtime win. The last of the three, from 37 yards out, brought Martin Stadium fans pouring into the field. That wouldn't have been possible without the 19-yarder he drilled in the first overtime or the 28-yarder he nailed on the final play of regulation to tie the game at 10. That game tier was set up by a 48-yard pass play on third-and-long from Kevin Lopina to Jared Karstetter with 24 seconds left. While the game pitted two bad teams, there was no getting around the game itself, which ESPN dubbed "one of the most stunning conclusions in the history of the Apple Cup." The victory gave WSU a 2-10 record and helped send the Huskies packing into the offseason with an historic 0-12 mark.

No. 10: Raonall Smith deflects Kyle Orton's fourth-down pass, Sun Bowl 2001
Down 30-23, Purdue recovers an onside kick in the waning moments and drives to the Cougar 22. Smith's deflection ensured this Cougar squad a 10-win season (just the third in school history at that point) and the first of what would be three consecutive top-10 rankings. Lamont Thompson had eight tackles and two interceptions on the day, while Jason David had six tackles, two interceptions and 73 yards in returns and a TD.

No. 11: Karl Paymah tips pass to Vigil Williams who takes it to the house in win over Oregon, 2003
The Ducks were ranked No. 10 in the country and the reigning Sports Illustrated cover boys after a big win over Michigan. The Cougs were ranked No. 21 but still considered notable underdogs in Eugene. What ensued was a massacre. The Cougars jumped to a 17-0 lead and then put the ultimate dagger in the Ducks' fighting spirit with a little more than eight minutes left in the first half when Paymah tipped a Kellen Clemens pass intended for Sammie Parker. Virgil William was there to grab the rebound and ran the interception back 40 yards to put the Cougs up 31-2. The final score was 55-16.


No. 12: Scott Davis upends Casey Paus and Will Derting recovers fumble for TD, Apple Cup 2004
It didn't happen late in the fourth quarter or in overtime, but it was a play that sent the Martin Stadium crowd into a frenzy, giving the Cougs a 21-10 halftime lead that eventually turned into a nailbiting 28-25 victory. Davis, the stout linebacker from Kennewick , had a monster day. On this play he sacked Paus and forced the fumble that Derting then recovered in the end zone. The victory was WSU's first in the Apple Cup since 1997, making for a sweet conclusion to a season that looked to have bowl game written all over it but fell just short.

No. 13: Scott Lunde saves the day against Oregon State, 2003
With ice-water in his veins, a pair of Downey-soft hands and some precise route running, the fifth-year senior rescued No. 14-ranked Washington State from a nightmare of offensive ineptitude with an eight-catch, 110-yard, two-touchdown effort that lifted the Cougars to a dramatic, come-from-behind, 36-30 victory over the Beavs in Martin Stadium. The victory kept the Cougars on path for a shot at second-straight conference crown.


No. 14: Matt Kegel to Sammy Moore TD to force OT at Notre Dame, 2003
WSU's first-ever game against the Irish was a thriller with Will Derting's 12-tackle (nine solo), three-sack, forced-fumble, helmet-busting day nothing less than unforgettable, but the single-most exhilarating moment was Kegel's 34- yard pass to Moore who made a twisting, turning, one-handed grab in the left corner of the end zone with 53 seconds left in regulation to send the game into OT. The Cougs lost 29-26 after jumping to a 19-0 lead but still won 10 games on the season.

No. 15: Connor Halliday torches ASU for 494 air yards, 2011
For a rebuilding program and wanting fans, this game was an elixir. The upset victory on a snowy night in Pullman kept alive bowl hopes but it also lit the fire of expectation for the future because it was orchestrated by a second-year freshman quarterback who looked as good as the greats who've played QB for the Cougs. Halliday came off the bench to complete 27 of 36 passes for 494 yards (the second-most in a single game in WSU history) and four touchdowns.


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