NOTEBOOK: Cougs' win has a special feel to it

TUCSON – Washington State's 24-17 triumph over Arizona on Saturday afternoon had a special feel to it, and that did not escape the Cougar players in the immediate aftermath of a tense, back-and-forth contest that was not decided until the final play.

"If feels great!" beaming linebacker Darryl Monroe told a room full of media types. "I'm ecstatic."

"I'm overcome with joy, just happy for everyone," safety Deone Bucannon said. "You walk into the locker room, and everyone's happy. Everyone's shaking your hand. Everyone's giving you hugs."

"This," quarterback Connor Halliday said, "is why you play college football."

With the Cougs having lost their last three games in blowout fashion, and having dropped four of their last five, Halliday and Monroe had special reason to savor a close, hard-fought road victory that could prove pivotal to the Cougars' bowl hopes.

"I think this shows the resilience of this group that I talked about all the way back to Lewiston (the start of fall camp in Lewiston, Idaho)," Halliday said.

"We're not going to quit. We aren't perfect by any means, obviously. We have our holes here and there. "But," he stressed, "we're a resilient group that doesn't quit on each other. That really loves playing football with one another, and really cares about one another."

Monroe said the tough times the Cougars have experienced helps them on the road.

"Ever since I got here," he said, "I felt like everyone was just against us. Everybody laughed at us. No one ever believed in us. Nobody ever gave us a chance before you ever step on the field.

"You get this swagger about yourself (on the road). This chip on your shoulder. It's like, ‘You know what? The only people that believe in us is us.'"

With two games left in the regular season, the Cougars are one win away from bowl eligibility. Not that anyone was willing to talk about it.

"We're not thinking about it," Monroe said. "We're just thinking about the next game. If you start thinking about bowl games, you'll get a lack of focus."

"I'm getting ready for tomorrow's practice," wide receiver Dom Williams said. "I'm going to take it a practice at a time, a game at a time, a play at a time."

The Cougars wrap up their home schedule next Saturday against Utah (12:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks), then visit Washington on Friday, Nov. 29 (12:30 p.m., FOX).

WSU is 5-5 overall and 3-4 in the Pac-12. Utah is 4-6 and 1-6 with four straight losses. Washington is 6-4 and 3-4 (tied for fourth in the North Division with WSU) and coming off a loss to UCLA.

The Cougars were playing their first game in 16 days, and just their second game since an Oct. 12 contest at Oregon. Rust could have been a factor, but the Cougars bolted to a 10-0 lead after 13 minutes of play.

"The coaches did a great job of calming us down and making us keep our composure," Bucannon said.

"We didn't come out (too) hyped," Monroe said. "We weren't all over the place. We came out with a good calm about ourselves."

It was just the third time all season that WSU scored more than seven points in the first quarter.

The victory was not secured until B.J. Denker's fourth-and-4 pass to Samajie Grant sailed out of bounds on the right sideline as time expired. Grant caught the ball, but he was covered like a blanket by Anthony Carpenter and had no way of catching the ball inbounds.

"That last play was probably the longest play of my life," Bucannon said.

"Things felt like they were in slow motion," Monroe said.

Isiah Myers scored the tiebreaking touchdown with just 2:05 left. Halliday found Myers from 25 yards out, but it took a nifty ducking move after the catch by Myers to escape safety William Parks near the 8-yard line on the right sideline.

"You can feel the guy coming, so I just ducked," Myers said.

It was just the second touchdown catch of the year for Myers, his other coming two months ago against Southern Utah. Myers' playing time has been reduced at times this year, but the junior wide receiver makes no excuses.

"Some guys out-performed me in practice," he said. "But I came back. I never quit."

The Cougars ran the ball 27 times for 101 yards after running just 23 times the previous two games combined. In each of those outings, the Cougars netted just 2 yards on the ground.

Marcus Mason led the ground attack Saturday with 11 carries, 63 yards (5.7 yards per carry) and one touchdown. Mason also tied Williams for the team lead with seven catches, good for 20 yards.

Mason said increased running was part of the game plan against the Wildcats' 3-3-5 defense.

"The looks that they give and just the ability and confidence we have with our offensive line allowed us to run the ball," Mason said.

Halliday and Williams also singled out the offensive line for praise. Halliday was sacked four times, but he said they were "coverage sacks" caused by receivers being tied up by defenders.

"A huge, huge game by the offensive line," Halliday said.

On the winning touchdown drive, right tackle John Fullington kept a pass rusher perhaps 10 feet away from Halliday for an unusually long period of time, despite the rusher's repeated attempts to get around Fullington. Halliday finally unloaded the ball to running back Teondray Caldwell, who made a sensational 19-yard catch by keeping his tip-toes inside the left sideline.

Halliday said Caldwell made "the best catch I've seen in a while." Williams labeled Fullington's blocking on the play "amazing. I was just like, ‘OK, he's (Halliday has) 6 seconds, 10 seconds.' John still had him … John's a great O-lineman."

Halliday broke Alex Brink's 2007 school records of 305 pass completions and 503 attempts in a season. Halliday finished 39 for 53 for 319 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

"I thought it was the best game he's played," WSU coach Mike Leach said.

Halliday tied the WSU career record of 300-yard passing games (Brink and Ryan Leaf also had 12). Halliday, a redshirt junior, tied Drew Bledsoe for fifth all-time at WSU with 46 touchdown passes. Bledsoe played three seasons at WSU before he was selected No. 1 in the NFL draft.

"It definitely feels good (to tie Bledsoe)," Halliday said. "There's been some good quarterbacks come to this school. It humbles me to see my name going up that chart."

After giving up more than 550 total yards in five consecutive games – and allowing more than 50 points in four of those games (all losses) – the WSU defense limited Arizona to 395 yards.

"They never lost their focus and came out and played well today," Leach sad.

"I believe in our defense," Williams said. "They can stop anybody."

WSU senior linebacker Justin Sagote led all players on both teams with a career-high 12 tackles. Monroe and Bucannon both had 11 tackles.

Arizona star running back Ka'Deem Carey
"I thought in the second half we played Carey really well," Leach said.

"He's the best running back I've played against," Monroe said.

The Cougars have won five games overall and three conference games for the first time since 2007. The three conference road wins are a first for WSU since 2006.

Monroe said he's unimpressed with those numbers.

"We have a lot of unfinished business," he said. "It won't feel good unless we go 2-0 in these next two games."

Arizona wide receiver Trey Griffey, the son of former Seattle Mariners great Ken Griffey Jr., made his first start and caught his first four passes as a Wildcat.

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said he was pleased with wide receiver Trey Griffey, the son of former Seattle Mariners great Ken Griffey Jr., who had four catches in his first start, but not with very many of his teammates.

"We didn't play well or coach well," Rodriguez said. "We had way too many unforced errors, dropped snaps and easy field goals missed.

"There were some third downs that should've made plays on. Our margin for error is very slim, and if we play poorly, it will be hard for us to win.

"I don't think we played well in any phase of the game, but I give them (the Cougars) credit."

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