For the first time since the Cougs vanquished Stanford in the final home game of the fabled 1997 season, there was over-flow anticipation in the Palouse air. Fannies looked to be in each of the 35,283-plus seats.
Fittingly, one of the most spirited Cougars of all time — former head coach Jim Sweeney — was on hand to watch the proceedings, which pitted two of his coaching progeny against each other.
When all was said and done in a game that began as a rout and ended much closer than it should have been, the second coming of the Palouse Posse downed Oregon State 34-27 in front of a vocal and appreciative homecoming crowd.
And just like that, the Cougars — like the Sooners — are a perfect 5-0 on the season and sitting high atop their respective conferences. The Beavers, meanwhile, drop to 1-3.
Oh, to be good again.
The rowdy crimson crowd was on its feet for the majority of the game and wreaked havoc on the Oregon State offense, forcing them into two delay-of-game penalties.
Was this really Pullman — home of the moribund for the last three seasons?
Forget Sweeney. This atmosphere was more like the high-octane stuff George Raveling presided over at Beasley in the early '80s.
"The crowd was unbelievable," said Cougar quarterback Jason Gesser, who had an uncharacteristically spotty second half after taking a vicious hit in the stomach. "When the fans are behind us 100 percent like they were today it gives you a good feeling inside and it helps the team. We have great fans, we've always had great fans."
"Today was great — we always appreciate playing to a full house," he said. "I had a former player come in town this weekend and he couldn't even get a ticket. It's a great feeling, we're 5-0 and we've got some things to build on. That's the way it can be in Pullman, and it has to be."
Earlier in the week Price minced no words about what he expected from the fans come kick off time.
Those who heeded his message were not disappointed — though anyone who showed up two minutes late surely would have been as Erik Coleman, playing in place of injured all-world corner Marcus Trufant, intercepted Beaver quarterback Jonathan Smith on the fourth play of the game and returned the ball 47 yards to paydirt.
When David Minnich pulled in a 7-yard pass from Jason Gesser six minutes later to put the Cougars up by two TDs, you just know any tardy fans from Corvallis who were still looking for a parking spot wish they'd gone to Cannon Beach for the weekend instead.
By the time Mike Bush and Nakoa McElrath chipped into the first-half scoring fest, you had a hunch the Western Union office was going to be over run at the half.
Urgent telegram to Sports Illustrated: Was that supposed to be your April's Fools' edition? Stop.
Equally urgent telegram to Athlon's: Did you really pencil the Cougars in for an 0-11 campaign? Stop.
Stopping was what this game was all about. The Cougar D held former Heisman Trophy contender Ken Simonton to 19 yards on 12 carries. In nine first-half possessions, the Beavers punted six times and turned the ball over twice. Four of those punts capped three-and-out efforts.
The Cougar offensive line was the other big story in this one. Minnich carried the ball 34 times for 195 yards, good for the ninth highest single-game rushing total in school history. He also fired a TD pass to McElrath.
"I think the key to our performance was the ability of both our offensive and defensive lines to get a good push on them (OSU) and get them off the ball," Price said.
While the big boys up front dominated for the majority of the game and Minnich ran roughshod over Beaver defenders, the aerial game was kept relatively in check, netting only 137 yards.
Part of that was due to Gesser's ailing insides. Part was due to the fact the Cougars pretty much went in to cruise control after half time.
A blocked punt in the third quarter and a Matt Kegel fumble very late in the fourth were both returned for touchdowns that allowed OSU to get within striking distance.
And that's the beauty of this Cougar team. They played like they were going through the motions in the second half — and it didn't matter one wit.
The Cougars pull a no-show for two quarters against vaunted Dennis Erickson and his national media darlings and they still win. That's a page right out of the Don James play book.
"This team is special," Price concedes.
You can say that again.
- The Cougars are 5-0 for the fourth time in the last 20 years. The other times were 1981, 1992 and 1997.
- Only two Cougar backs in the last 10 years have had bigger days than Minnich did against OSU: Michael Black, 214 yards vs. Cal in 1996, and Kevin Brown, 202 yards vs. Stanford in 1998.
- Erickson is now 2-2 lifetime against WSU. His other loss was to Jim Walden in 1982 when Erickson was at Idaho. His two wins were in 1999 and 2000.
- Two most penalized teams in the Pac-10 from last season didn't show any signs of holding back against each other this year. The Cougs and Beavs combined for 19 flags totaling 176 yards.