Original Cardiac Kids size up WSU's newest

THE TEXT MESSAGE that arrived on Dr. Dave Petersen’s phone late Saturday night was short and sweet: “It looks like you’re going to be replaced.”

The missive, from a close friend, needed no more explanation than that to be fully understood, laughs Dave’s wife Patti.

The Cougars had just defeated UCLA in fantastic, clock-beating fashion -- WSU’s fourth, fourth-quarter come-from-behind victory this season.

That’s what the text message was about.

When Patti was a WSU sophomore in the fall of 1965, her future husband -- now a Spokane dentist -- was a starting junior safety and backup quarterback for a Cougar team that had such a flare for the dramatic that a nickname given to them by Spokane Chronicle sports editor Bob Johnson has never left the Cougar lexicon.

“The Cardiac Kids.”

Despite 50 years and a transformation in size, speed and scheme of the game, the parallels between the 1965 and 2015 Cougars are impossible not to draw. Bob Robertson called this year's bunch “The Cardiac Kids Two” Saturday night after Luke Falk and Gabe Marks teamed up for the game winner in the final seconds. Bill Moos, in his Monday radio show, dubbed the 2015 Cougs “Cardiac Kids: The Sequel.”

Patti Petersen agrees.

“They certainly gave me palpitations,” she told Cougfan.com about the win in Pasadena. “It’s nice to come out on the winning end of a situation like that.”

Dave Petersen points to a clear difference between the two teams, yet can't help but see the common ground they share around crunch time.

“The scores in our games were much lower: 7-6, 8-7 ... But the situations at the end were very similar.”

Consider these nail-biting highlights of the Cardiac Kids:

  • at Iowa:
    In the final minute, quarterback Tom Roth passes to tight end Rich Sheron for the game’s lone TD and the Cougs pull off a major upset, 7-0.

  • at Minnesota:
    Roth guides the Cougs to another score in the waning moments and star defensive back Bill Gaskins boots the extra point to win it, 14-13.

  • vs. Villanova:
    Trailing 14-10 late in the fourth quarter, Roth connects with Bob Simpson for a 78-yard TD pass and Gaskins picks off Nova’s next pass and returns it to paydirt, securing a 24-14 WSU victory.

  • at Indiana:
    The Hoosiers are offsides on the play that should have been the game’s last, so the clock literally reads zero when Roth takes the final snap and passes five yards to Doug Flansburg for a TD and then connects with Ammon McWashington for a two-point conversion to pull out an 8-7 win.

    Other than the low point totals, that array of thrills and chills is shockingly similar to the 2015 Cougars:

  • at Rutgers:
    Falk passes 8 yards to River Cracraft with 13 seconds left and the Cougs win 37-34.

  • at Oregon:
    Falk passes 8 yards to Dom Williams with 1 second left and the Cougs go on to win 45-38 in double OT.

  • at Arizona:
    This wasn't a come-from-behind, but it was clutch. Falk passes 9 yards to Gabe Marks with 2:03 left and the Cougs win 45-42.

  • vs. Arizona State
    Down 21-17 entering the fourth quarter, the Cougars put together two long drives for TDs and then iced it, 38-24, with a 75-yard scoring aerial from Falk to Williams.

  • at UCLA:
    Falk passes 21 yards to Marks with 3 seconds left and the Cougs win 38-35.

    The alignment of the 1965 Cougars (who finished at 7-3) and the 2015 team (which takes a 7-3 mark into Saturday night's home finale against Colorado) doesn’t end with the nerve-wracking wins. As the current Cougars had their last-second heart-breaker against Stanford three weeks ago, the ’65 club suffered a similar end in Tempe.

    After a sweep of the Oregon schools, the Cardiacs appeared to have defeated Arizona State in yet another fourth-quarter heart stopper, but a highly controversial delay-of-game penalty negated a two-point conversion by the Cougs and they lost 7-6. The defeat deprived WSU of a Rose Bowl berth as UCLA, by way of a tie with Missouri early in the season, finished a half-game ahead of them. And in those days, if you didn't win the conference title you weren't allowed to go bowling.

    “We had that game won,” remembers Petersen. “We were hosed.”

    STEVE BOOTS, A SOPHOMORE LINEBACKER on the ’65 team, said he was jumping up and down in front of his TV Saturday when Falk fired his final pass into the end zone.

    It’s tough to compare teams from different eras because the game has changed so much, but there is no getting around the similarities between Falk and Cardiac Kids QB Tom Roth, Boots told CF.C on Monday.

    “It all starts with Luke. This guy has good leadership skills, like Tom, and he’s unflappable, like Tom,” says Boots, the owner of Stinson Manufacturing in Spokane.

    “Tommy didn’t have as good an arm or as quick a release as Luke does -- he wasn’t as spectacular as Luke -- but when the job needed to be done, he did it. If we got the ball back with two minutes left, we knew Tom would do it.

    “My sense is that Luke has the same calm demeanor as Tom. When things are going wrong, they just keep doing their job. And when the pressure is on, they are just unflappable.”

    Petersen echoes that assessment. “Tom was low key, kept his cool, but he could get the team fired up. People wanted to follow him ... he did a great job and I think Luke Falk is the same way.”

    Roth, pictured above left, led the conference in passing in 1965 and was voted second-team Associated Press All-West Coast. Falk leads the nation in passing and if he isn’t all-something, the system must be rigged.

    As fate would have it, WSU held a 50th anniversary reunion for the Cardiac Kids in Pullman the night before the season-opening loss to Portland State.

    The Petersens were at the reunion and the game.

    “This is going to be a long season,” Dave thought to himself as he walked out of Martin Stadium that rain-soaked day. Now, to see that same team drawing comparisons to 1965 “is fun to watch,” he says.

    He calls Falk “fantastic,” but points to the improvement of the defense as especially notable. “They’ve made a complete turnaround. When they’re on the field I feel like, geez, they can do it ... These guys are great."

    Ever the Cougar, he switches from "they" to "we" when assessing the 2015 team's entire body of work.

    "You know, we could be undefeated right now," Petersen says with enthusiasm. "We had a chance at the end against Portland State, then obviously there's the Cal game, and we missed Stanford by 12 inches to the right."

    He said he'll be in the stands Saturday to cheer the Cougs on to victory number eight. And he's hoping no heart palpitations will be required.

  • Tom Roth's younger brother, Joe, was a star quarterback at Cal in the mid 1970s. He played his senior year while battling malignant melanoma and died shortly after the season ended. The Pac-12 Networks ran a documentary of his life earlier this season called "Don't Quit: The Joe Roth Story."

  • Ammon McWashington's son, Shawn, was a standout receiver for the Cougars and part of the Fab Five on the 1998 Rose Bowl team.

  • WSU and Colorado kick off at 7:45 Saturday in Pullman. The game will be televised on ESPN2. WSU is a 15-point favorite

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