DeRider & Salmonson change arc of the game

WASHINGTON STATE's much-maligned special teams were anything but Saturday night in the Cougars' dramatic 31-27 win over No. 18 UCLA.

Dylan Hanser partially blocked a Bruin punt, Zach Charme coffin-cornered two punts near the UCLA goal line, and Nate DeRider -- in a play that changed the face of the game -- forced a Bruins fumble on a punt return that B.J. Salmonson recovered at the UCLA 14.With just more than two minutes left in the first half, DeRider tackled UCLA return man Ishmael Adams from behind, hitting him ball side, and jarring the pigskin loose.

As the two players hit the ground, DeRider swept the ball out and Salmonson came sprinting from seemingly nowhere to dive on it with two other Cougs close behind. Officials on the field ruled Adams down but the replay booth called it a fumble.

Cougar ball at the UCLA 14.

And just like that, the walk-on linebacker from Bellevue who didn't play a down last season (DeRider) and the deep backup offensive lineman from the Nooksack Valley (Salmonson) had set up relief quarterback Peyton Bender for his first-ever college touchdown pass, a 7-yard fade to Dom Williams, 33 seconds later.

With the ensuing Erik Powell PAT, the TD put the Cougars up 14-13. UCLA would kick a field goal to take a 16-14 lead into halftime, but the DeRider-Salmonson heroics were greater than the sum of the parts.

Their timing literally couldn't have been better.

Standout quarterback Luke Falk was in the locker room after getting his bell rung the previous series, the Cougar offense was nearly 25 minutes removed from its last TD, and UCLA quarterback Seth Rosen was throwing some lasers.

WSU needed a play.

And they got it from two third-year sophomores who have toiled in virtual anonymity since arriving in Cougarville in 2013. DeRider and Salmonson were alert, aggressive and ready to make as much difference as they could in their modest -- yet game-altering -- roles.

Their work illustrated -- in front of a national television audience -- why football is the ultimate team game. On a night when Falk burnished his fledgling Heisman credentials with another last-minute victory and Gabe Marks broke Michael Bumpus' WSU record for career receptions, two guys even ardent WSU fans know just faintly made a difference that changed the arc of this game.

The Cougars beat UCLA for the first time since 2007. WSU is in second place in the Pac-12, standing 7-3 overall and 5-2 in conference play -- the best season on the Palouse since the last of the 10-win seasons in 2003.

And two players you wouldn't have expected -- Nate DeRider and B.J. Salmonson -- are standing just behind Falk and Marks on center stage, proving that football is, indeed, the ultimate team game.

NOTABLE:

  • Falk's two touchdown passes upped his season total to 35, breaking the WSU single-season record of 34 held Ryan Leaf (1997) and Connor Halliday (2013). Falk's 331 passing yards boosted his season total to 4,067, the second-most in WSU single-season history behind Halliday. He now has a career total of 5,926 yards, ninth-most in WSU history.

  • With 12 catches, Marks increased his career reception total to 204, surpassing Bumpus’ record of 195. The output was Marks' fifth career game with 10 or more receptions, most in the WSU history. With his two TD catches on the night, Marks increased his season total to 13, tying him with Jason Hill (2005) for the most in WSU single-season history.

  • The win marked WSU's first over a ranked opponent since beating No. 16 Oregon in 2006.

  • The punt block by Hanser was WSU's first since Theron West's against Colorado State in the 2013 New Mexico Bowl.

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