At Least It's Over

PULLMAN -- This was supposed to be a game for <b>Tali Ena</b> and <b>Hamza Abdullah</b>. For <b>Karl Paymah</b> and <b>Scott Lunde</b>. This was supposed to be a game for the guys who toil all week in practice and then wait in the shadows on Saturdays.

Tracy Easter and Kyle Stiffarm, hard-working walk-ons, deserved more.

Shoot, Matt Kegel and Brian Hollenberg, deserved more.

The Cougars extended their record to 7-0 Thursday night for only the third time since 1930. And while they scored 53 points in the process, they were as lackluster as can be, yielding 28 to Montana State.

A golden opportunity to get the Derrick Dillons, Anthony Buchanans and Mark Ahlbergs of the world on the field for extended playing time evaporated amid a serious case of sleep walking.

With some key players already banged up, this should have been a night to rest the vets and take a look at the next generation.

The Cougars blew it. The crowd was small. The night air was chilly. Montana State is not No. 5 Oregon, whom the Cougars face a week from Saturday in a highly anticipated shootout.

These guys wanted to be curled up at home watching the Mariners and Yankees. And they ended up having to play MSU tough right on in to the fourth quarter.

Hard to believe this was the same bunch that sent first quarter shivers up the spines of Smiley Willingham, Dennis Erickson and John Mackovic.

Montana State is having a turnaround year. But who'd have figured they scorch the Pac-10's top cat for 247 yards just in kick returns. Who'd have figured they'd return a fumble 37 yards to go up 7-0?

Who figured they'd pile up 306 yards of their 440 passing and rushing yards on the ground against one of nation's best run-stopping units? Indeed, who'd have figured All-American candidate Lamont Thompson could get burned deep by a guy who has about as much chance of playing on Sundays as, well, Kyle Stiffarm.

"This is the worst I've ever felt and we're seven and oh," head coach Mike Price seethed afterward. "Boy I'm mad, very upset. We underestimated Montana State. We weren't ready for this game. To be champions you have to play like champions for 60 minutes."

Don't stop, Coach, you're on a roll.

"We're going to ship off the tape of this game to Oregon," he added. "They can get over-confident by watching."

No truer words could capture the essence of the ugliest win this side of that Temple game back in '95. Sloppy, uninspired -- you name it, that was WSU on this night. Turnovers, blown coverages, arm tackles, even two failed PATs.

But also give credit to MSU and head coach Mike Kramer. They came to play -- with their hearts as well as a solid game plan.

"They played their tails off," Price said. "They played with class and dignity."

So while this was not the hoped-for clone of the rout that WSU's last 7-0 team inflicted on Southwest Louisiana in 1997, it wasn't Troy State at Mississippi last week either.

The No. 18-ranked Cougars struggled, but they came through enough times to make sure their head coach wouldn't try a swan dive off the backside of the student grandstand.

Running back John Tippins, playing in place of injured David Minnich and Allen Thompson, came within six yards of something no other Cougar has done: Produce 100 yards on the ground and another 100 via the air in one game. He carried the ball 24 times for 100 hashes and caught five passes for 94. He also scored four touchdowns, just one short of the WSU single-game record. The performance was all the more impressive because he did it after coughing up the fumble that MSU turned into a 7-0 lead --- a potential confidence-killer for a former linebacker making his first collegiate start.

Jason Gesser, who no doubt saw far more action than he imagined, was his usual productive self, tossing three TD passes and running for another. In all, he completed 22 of 35 passes for 374 yards. Nakoa McElrath brought down eight of 'em for 154 yards.

On defense, Billy Newman appeard to be his usual fiery self and sophomore middle linebacker Al Genatone played like a one-man wrecking crew. And there were others, too.

But as a team, as a collective organism, these Cougars had their heads on October 27.

And if they don't pull their act together before then, it's going to turn into one of the most humiliating days of their careers.


* The Cougars failed to score on either their first or second possession of the game for the first time this season. In fact, they were scoreless in the first quarter.

* The Cougar-Duck showdown next Saturday will be broadcast by ABC, Kickoff is at 4 pm.

* Both Price and trainer Bill Drake are confident that Minnich and linebacker Raonall Smith will be ready to go for the Oregon game. Cornerback Marcus Trufant might even be able to make a stick or two.

* The Cougars have now tallied 30 points or more points in seven consecutive games. That's a school record.

                     MSU      WSU
First downs            20      32
Rushes-yards       27-134  40-217
Passing               306     436
Comp-Att-Int      24-43-1 28-43-1
Return Yards          250      64
Punts-Avg.           6-27    3-49
Fumbles-Lost          1-1     2-2
Penalties-Yards     12-92    8-75
Time of Possession  30:01   29:59


RUSHING: MSU --  Johnson 19-116, Thomas 2-7, Knokey 1-6, Gluhm 1-3, Elliott 1-2, Smith 1-0, Tognetti 2-0. WSU --  Tippins 24-100, Nettles 1-45, Kegel 1-27, Gesser 3-19, Wilson 6-18, Hawkins 2-6, Anderson 2-2, Thielbahr 1-0.

PASSING: MSU -- Thomas 22-40-1-252, Knokey 1-2-0-13, Rich 1-1-0-41. WSU --  Gesser 22-35-1-374, Kegel 4-5-0-46, Ena 2-3-0-16.

RECEIVING: MSU -- Turnquist 9-148, Winters 5-27, Carahasen 4-29, Smith 2-25, Jacobson 1-41, Ware 1-16, Bassett 1-13, Elliott 1-7. WSU -- McElrath 8-154, Bush 6-69, Tippins 5-94, Riley 4-62, Mayfield 2-18, Thielbahr 1-26, Ahlberg 1-10, Harvey 1-3.


First Quarter

MSU-D.Smith 37 fumble return (Cook kick), 1:23

Second Quarter

WSU-Bush 31 pass from Gesser (kick failed), 7:32

WSU-Tippins 1 run (pass failed), 3:12

WSU-Tippins 41 pass from Gesser (Dunning kick), :36

Third Quarter

WSU-Tippins 21 pass from Gesser (Dunning kick), 13:33

MSU-Winters 3 pass from Thomas (Cook kick), 10:24

WSU-Gesser 15 run (kick blocked), 7:24

WSU-Tippins 14 run (Dunning kick), 1:26

Fourth Quarter

MSU-Turnquist 47 pass from Thomas, (Cook kick), 11:23

WSU-Bush 2 pass from Kegel (Dunning kick), 8:57

WSU-Wilson 1 run (Lambert kick), 5:31

MSU-Molen 93 kickoff return (Cook kick), 5:02



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