The Unlikely Hero

PULLMAN -- Scott Lunde, jilted of a scholarship offer by Oregon State as prep senior because he was considered too slow, took the opportunity Saturday night to show the Beavers there's more to the game than speed.

With ice-water in his veins, a pair of Downey-soft hands and some precise route running, the fifth-year senior from Vancouver's Hudsons Bay High rescued Washington State from a nightmare of offensive ineptitude with an eight-catch, 110-yard, two-touchdown effort that lifted the Cougars to a dramatic, come-from-behind 36-30 victory over the Beavs.

In doing so, WSU climbs to 7-1 on the season and 4-0 in Pac-10 play as it heads to Los Angeles next week for a showdown with USC.

To fully appreciate how big -- and improbable -- Lunde's heroics were, consider that his statistical output nearly matched the numbers he'd collected over the previous seven games combined. He was seeing greater playing time than usual because standout slotback Chris Jordan had to leave the game with an injury.

But get this: Lunde was benched for a time by offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller for expressing some frustration with a first-half play that went awry.

That almost had this 6-1, 201-pound uber-competitor in tears.

But just like his loss of playing time this season, he didn't stew. Ol' No. 35 just focused.

"I'm pretty much a team player. I just tried to come back and fight and have a good attitude," said Lunde, who walked on at WSU after OSU -- between the transition from Mike Riley to Dennis Erickson -- pulled its offer of a scholarship. After years of hard work on scout and special teams, he emerged as a solid back up for the Cougars in 2001 and then earned a full ride a year ago when he caught 35 passes for the Pac-10 champions.

Saturday, with WSU blowing a 14-0 lead and trailing 28-16 at halftime, Lunde woke the echoes of legendary WSU possession receivers of yore. Blink and you could swear it was wee Brian Kelly out there.

Or maybe even Levenseller himself. No matter. Lunde was a one-man wrecking crew. Saying he was "in the zone," he found ways to get open underneath and over the middle, snagging everything Matt Kegel -- under pressure and off target much of the day -- tossed his way.

In fact, Lunde turned the first five minutes of the fourth quarter into a personal showcase. His 9-yard scoring reception from Kegel early in the period closed OSU's lead to 28-23.

And just when the faithful thought all was lost after Kegel was picked off in the Beaver end zone, the defense held again and Lunde went to work, grabbing a long one over the middle that he and Kegel followed on the next play with an 11-yard scoring strike -- again, over the middle -- to put WSU up 29-28.

"I knew he was a good football player and he did a nice job reading some blitzes and making some plays," said Riley, who would have had Lunde clad in black were it not for Erickson's concerns about the kid's wheels.

So great was Lunde's mojo on this gorgeous autumn night that he also starred in a critical play in which he didn't even touch the ball. Late in the game, with the Cougars leading by one and looking for more, Beaver Mitch Meeuwsen, who already had intercepted Kegel twice, grabbed another and returned it to the Cougar 16. But two penalties on the play against OSU -- one of them for interfering with (you guessed it) Scott Lunde -- nullified the play and the Cougars retained the ball and scored on a nifty 22-yard Jonathon Smith run one play later.

On a day when the Cougar offense did seemingly everything it could to lose the game while the crimson defense was its usual remarkable self, it made no sense that the game's biggest hero would be from the O. That it was Lunde -- who in one-half of football tonight exactly doubled his entire career TD total -- is even more mind bending.

But in a game as weird you'll ever see -- a collective 12 turnovers, 12 sacks, 22 penalties, and three safeties fergawdsakes -- it's only fitting that the man of the hour be out of left field.

If the Cougar receiving corps were the Rat Pack, you've got the likes of Devard Darling as Sinatra, Jordan as Deano and Sammy as, naturally, Sammy. But Lunde? He's Joey Bishop all the way -- solid, reliable, nothing flashy.

But on this night, at least, also a headliner for the ages.

THAT DOMINANT DEFENSE
For a long time there, it looked like the only offense that was going to help the OSU effort was WSU's turnover-prone O. On their first eight possessions, the Beaver O punted seven times and fumbled once -- the fumble recovered by Isaac Brown and returned to the OSU 2-yard-line to set up WSU's first tally of the day on a Jonathon Smith run.

Hats off to Coach (Robb) Akey and that whole (defensive) staff. They had a great plan," said head coach Bill Doba of his D coordinator and stop corps.

For the entire day, the Cougar D held Oregon State to 25 plays of three yards rushing or less, with star back Steven Jackson logging just 24 hashes in the first half. And QB Derek Anderson completed just 16 of 42 of passes, was sacked seven times, threw two INTs and lost two fumbles. The Beavers also converted on only four of 20 third-down plays.

Senior safety Erik Coleman, who termed the day's proceedings "bizarre," led the Cougar defensive onslaught with 11 total tackles and a big fourth quarter INT. That was the ninth pick of Coleman's career and his fourth this season. Coleman's 11 tackles put him just one behind Will Derting for the team lead this season -- 51 to 50. Derting had another huge day, posting eight tackles, including three sacks, and pressuring Anderson all day long.

Jason David's interception to seal the game with just more than a minute on the clock was the 15th of his career, moving him past late-60s standout Rick Reed into sole possession of the No. 2 spot on WSU's career air theft chart behind Lamont Thompson.

With three sacks on the day, Cougar DE D.D. Acholonu moved into second place on the WSU career list with 23.5. The record holder is Palouse Posse All-American DeWayne Patterson. D.D. ranks No. 3 for both career sack yards (160) and tackles for loss (182)

NOTABLE NOTES:
Cougar sophomore Kyle Basler's 68-yard third quarter punt was the longest of his career. He had a monster day, and averaged 43 yards on six kicks.

For the eighth time in eight games, Kegel completed at least one pass to seven or more different receives. He also did something less notable: Throw five INTs in one game. Not since the days of Birnbaum and Mencke in 1998 have the Cougars crossed that threshold. "This was a nightmare. If we wouldn't have won this game, I probably wouldn't have left this place alive," he said. " I lived to fight another day. I won't quit. I'm a Coug true and true and this team is full of champions."

If redshirt freshman linebacker Scott Davis looked natural heading down the field with the pigskin after scooping it up on that muffed OSU punt attempt, rest assured he was more than comfortable hauling the swine. During a star-studded three-year varsity career at Kamiakin High in Kennewick he rushed for 4,457 yards and scored 61 TDs.

Senior kicker Drew Dunning continued to inch toward Jason Hanson's WSU career scoring record. He tacked on four PATs Saturday to give him 300 career points, just 28 shy of Hanson's 328.

WSU outscored OSU 20-2 in the final period, effectivley offsetting OSU's 18-0 run in the second period. And how's this for strange: In the third quarter the Beavers had a 3-2 scoring advantage. Baseball anyone?

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