The real deal

Take some unlikely heroes, a locker room full of unwavering faith, a big dose of courage, and a ton of heart and you have the story of the Washington State Cougars' 45-39 nail-biting victory over the Stanford Cardinal yesterday.

In fact, throw in every positive sports cliché you've ever heard because each could apply to the undefeated Cougars, now 6-0 following the win over number 22 ranked Stanford. But that's not to say this team is not unique.

This is a Cougar team that's talented to be sure, but one that is riding the Victory train on that intangible, nameless, can't-bottle-it something that separates the champs from the chumps. True believers run deep into the depth chart on this squad and have since last summer, long before the media and fans jumped onto the now standing room only bandwagon.

Sure, many of the usual suspects were at the forefront of win number six: Jason Gesser, Mike Bush, Billy Newman, James Price, Lamont Thompson, et al. But to get a clear picture of the 2001 edition of Cougar football—or rather a clear look into the heart of this team—one need look no further than this list of unlikely heroes from yesterday's game: Allen Thompson, Josh Moen, John Tippins, Ira Davis, Jeremy Bohannon, Mike Issacson, Mark Baldwin, Pat Bennett…many of those names hitherto unrecognizable to all but the most diehard of Cougfans.

Indeed, there were 84 points tallied on the Stanford Stadium scoreboard, and just as many subplots to this glorious victory.

"We were chipped, tired, and sore coming into this game," said WSU coach Mike Price, winner for the first time ever at Stanford. "And we sucked it up."

Chipped is putting it lightly. Not only did the Cougs arrive at Stanford without their star running back, David Minnich, stud defender Marcus Trufant, and valued role players Nate Mallory and Alex Nguae, they lost Minnich's replacement, Allen Thompson, and linebackers Raonall Smith and Serign Marong for much of the game. Before injuring his ankle, Thompson had taken a Gesser screen pass 37 yards and later scored the Cougars' second touchdown with a highlight film flip into the end zone. Smith, arguably the Cougar defensive player of the year thus far, left with a strained knee ligament; Marong with a groin injury.

Enter converted safety Ira Davis, true freshman Pat Bennett, and walk-on Mike Issacson. Undersized for a linebacker, Davis made two sacks, two pass defenses, and a crucial interception. Bennett, redshirt aflame and vomiting on the sidelines early in the game, contributed four defensive stops. Issacson received high marks for staying true to his defensive assignments.

This WSU team is just that, a team. Reserves feed off the spirit of those they replace. Every player wants to contribute and, it seemed yesterday at Stanford, most of them did.

When Allen Thompson went down, John Tippins answered the call with 92 offensive yards, 75 of those on the ground at a jaw-dropping 5.8 yards a carry. Prior to yesterday, Tippins had rushed just three times for six yards as a Cougar.

"I didn't care how many carries I'd get," Tippins said. "I just wanted to contribute to the program."

Contribute is exactly what Josh Moen and Jeremy Bohannon did in the second quarter. Moen blocked a Stanford punt and Bohannon promptly fielded it and brought it home, breaking a 21-21 tie. Bohannon is another true freshman. Moen, the walk-on remembered for scoring on a punt recovery against Stanford last season, is not even listed on the official WSU roster.

Moments later, safety Newman became the fifth Cougar defender to score a touchdown this season, returning an interception 54 yards to paydirt.

Stanford started the scoring with a Randy Fasani pass to tight end Dan Naatjes, but the Cougs answered with three of their own: a 9-yard pass from Gesser to Baldwin, Thompson's 1-yard plunge, and the patented Wazzu option pass, featuring another Colin Henderson strike, this one covering 62-yards to Bush.

Three others who recently fit the underdog role of these aforementioned players contributed mightily against the Card and have quickly become reliable Cougar mainstays: Trufant's defensive back replacement Eric Coleman, linebacker Al Genatone, and kicker Drew Dunning.  Coleman and Genatone both played a part in eight defensive stops yesterday. Dunning was perfect on six PATs and a critical 26-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter.

The depleted and heat exhausted Cougar defense gave up three times the rushing yardage as was the norm, with Cardinal back Brian Allen accounting for 133 of their 219 ground yards.

But it was the defense that kept the Cougars in this game, stopping the Card and their dangerous quarterback Fasani when they had to. The Wazzu D reached Stanford signal-callers seven times, sophomore defensive end D.D. Acholonu notching four of those sacks.

Yet the defining moments of the game—perhaps the season—occurred in the fourth quarter. Down by four and sputtering for much of the game, the Cougar offense—behind a determined line—held onto the ball for 12 of the final 15 minutes. The first drive covered 86 yards over 18 plays, ending with the second Bush TD of the game, an 11-yard toss from Gesser. Shut down for much of the game, Nakoa McElrath caught four of his five grabs in those final two drives.

Certainly, the Cougs will be ranked now. "Should be in the top 15, " Jim Walden, the former WSU coach-cum-broadcast commentator said. "It's time to get that crap settled."

That's the beauty of this Cougar team. They don't care about the crap. They don't care about how many votes some east coast journalist gives them. Deplete the roster with injuries, shut down the stars, show them no respect in the polls…it's doesn't faze ‘em one bit. They believe. 

And so do we.







Cougfan Top Stories