Before moving on to ASU, the fumble revisited

YOU CAN NEVER pin a loss or a win on one play, especially when there are more than 150 of them, but when I woke up Sunday morning one play from the Washington State-Stanford game was front and center. And it didn't involve a missed field goal as time expired.

It was this: Cougar rush end Ivan McLennan's third quarter strip -- and recovery -- of Stanford back Christian McCaffrey that was ruled a non-fumble despite overwhelming replay evidence that McCaffrey was inbounds when he lost the ball.

The photo above is a screen grab from the ESPN broadcast. It's grainy, but plenty clear to see where the ball is (not cradled by McCraffrey) and where his fee feet are (inbounds).

Stanford turned that non-call into three points. They won the game by two. That math leaves a sour taste.

Now, there's no telling what would have happened if McLennan had been rewarded for his work. For all we know, Stanford could have turned the next pass by Luke Falk into a pick six.

But in a game this close, a blown call like that just sticks with you -- and not merely because of the points it produced for Stanford. As Jason Gesser and Matt Chazenow observed 10 minutes after the play, it was a huge momentum shifter. Bob Robertson said it "took the wind out of the sails" of the Cougars, who were leading 22-10 at the time of the play.

Even with their commentary on my side, I wondered if maybe I was too one-sided in my view of the play and its critical impact on the final score. Bad calls happen all the time, right? So I did some surfing to find out what, if any, attention notable sportswriters in Washington and California gave to the play. I will let my findings speak for themselves:

The Cardinal was on the fortunate end of a controversial call late in the third quarter, when McCaffrey appeared to fumble at WSU's 20-yard line. But the officials in the replay booth ruled that he stepped out of bounds before losing the ball. Stanford maintained possession and kicked a field goal to narrow the deficit to 22-13. -- Jon Wilner, San Jose Mercury News

... there is an air of larceny. There could be some of that in the rewind the next few days, thanks to a critical play late in the third quarter when WSU defensive end Ivan McClellan appeared to have stripped McCaffrey of the ball but the referees ruled the play out of bounds – and were not dissuaded by replay from which pretty much everyone else concluded otherwise. -- John Blanchette, Spokesman-Review

Many fans are no doubt ranting over what appeared to everyone watching the game a strip and fumble recovery by WSU's Ivan McLennan. Well, to everyone but the replay official. It was a Stanford fumble to the naked eye but with the advantage of video footage, the Pac-12 replay official said it wasn’t. -- Lew Wright,

Ukropina’s 32-yard field goal made it 22-13, but only after a controversial play in which WSU’s Ivan McLennan appeared to steal the ball from McCaffrey on a pass reception. A review upheld the non-fumble call. -- Tom Fitzgerald, San Francisco Chronicle

Stanford’s offense was ineffective in the first half, but the momentum shifted the Cardinal’s way toward the end of the third quarter. The momentum was helped when WSU seemingly forced running back Christian McCaffrey to fumble after a reception, but officials ruled it a completed pass, saying McCaffrey was out of bounds before the ball popped out. -- Stefanie Loh, Seattle Times

In other words, the outcome of this game is impossible to talk about without talking about the McLennan-McCaffrey play.

I will probably wake up again tomorrow with this play in my head.

It stings worse than the blatant -- but unflagged -- pass interference by Oregon on Isiah Myers last season on what I knew was shaping up as the winning TD drive by the Cougs. McLennan-McCaffrey was just one play among many, but with the Pac-12 North lead awaiting the winner, it's a blown call I'll never forget.

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