Erik Powell and his breakout game in WSU win

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Washington State third-year sophomore Erik Powell never dreamed of a college football future when he was young. Soccer was his thing. But after a career breakout game in the Cougars' 37-34 win over Rutgers, Powell's football career shines brightly.

“I didn’t start playing football until my junior year,” the Washington native said of his Seton Catholic High days. “I just did soccer all my life, and then our high school team got a football team, so I figured I’d try out.”

The Washington native was a four-year letter winner in soccer and scored 49 goals as an all-state senior. He also made 12 of 14 field goals in his two years as a placekicker, including three from at least 40 yards as a junior, with a long of 47. But one game into his third year at WSU, Powell's long had just been 26 yards.

Powell's left foot beat that three times during Saturday's game, each one critical considering the Cougars won by a field goal. Powell (No. 46 in photo above) hit from 46 yards and then 47 in the second quarter, and later added a 37-yarder in the fourth. Besides going 3 for 3 on field goals, he went 4 of 4 on his PATs.

“Always making a long field goal like that in a game gives a kicker a lot of confidence,” Powell said. “I think all kickers hope to get a 40-plus yarder, a 50-plus yarder in a game. So it felt great. It felt great to help the team put points on the board.

It sure helps to have a reliable kicker. Mike Leach kicked some high praise Powell’s way when the thrill ride of a game was over.

“He wasn’t a starter last year, and he’s really done an outstanding job,” the head coach said. “He’s improved probably more than any kicker in that period of time that I’ve coached.”

After walking on and redshirting as a WSU freshman, Powell actually did start two games last year and made two field goals. That included making one of two tries and all five of his PATs in the season-opening 41-38 loss to Rutgers. This season started with him making a 21-yarder and having a field-goal attempt blocked in the 24-17 loss to Portland State in Seattle on Sept. 5.

The 37-yarder with 2:16 gone in the fourth quarter of this Rutgers rematch was a pressure kick because the Scarlet Knights had rallied to tie the game at 20-20. Still, Powell wasn’t feeling a heavy weight on his shoulder pads thanks in large part to a New Jersey native, special teams coach Eric Mele.

“I think Coach Mele and the whole team … they put a lot of pressure on us when we do our kicks in practice just to simulate a game,” Powell said. “So coming into the game, honestly, I felt a lot more comfortable and relaxed and confident. So I think how Mele has been doing the live field goals in practice, that’s really, really helped, putting pressure on us.”

The game came down to Luke Falk throwing a touchdown pass to River Cracraft with 13 seconds left. But Powell wanted the game to come down to him, to get that chance to make the winning kick.

“I think every kicker hopes to hit a game winner at some point in their career,” Powell said. “… I was ready to go.”

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