Sing it loud: Doba's boys are back. Way back!

PULLMAN -- There was enough electricity in the Washington State locker room Saturday evening to light a city. And if you're taking nominations, Phoenix will do very nicely, thank you, given the jolt the Cougars put into their Pac-10 title --- and, therefore, Fiesta Bowl -- hopes with a gritty win over UCLA in super-charged Martin Stadium.

The locker room excitement was unabashed. In fact, it bordered on giddy. Were it not for the smell of sweat socks and the presence of guys who eat steak by the wheel barrow full, you might have thought you'd stumbled across a group of third-grade girls who just heard Ricky Martinwas coming to visit.

Everywhere you looked it was the same -- smiles, laughs and high-fives.

"Our defense is hungry and humble at the same time," said Lamont Thompson, whose air theft proficiency is quickly becoming the stuff of lore. "We just go out and get after it."

Sing it loud, sing it clear: Doba's boys are back. And the Cougars are 8-1 for the second time in five seasons, locked in a three-way tie atop the Pac-10 with Washington and Oregon.

This was a defensive effort to behold. The Cougars played bump-and-run. They used five down linemen on first-down plays. They blitzed. They tackled with authority. And they tackled in bunches.

They came up with seven turnovers, including two that helped the Cougars stake an early 10-0 lead.

They held the most feared rushing attack in the nation to 82 net yards.

The Fighting Cougars indeed.

The WSU defense, punished unmercifully by Oregon a week ago, returned with a vengeance in front of a Dad's Weekend crowd to lead WSU to a 20-14 thriller over the ninth-ranked team in the nation. The 19 Cougar seniors making their final appearance in Martin Stadium went out in memorable fashion.

There was Jeremey Williams, Rien Long and the rest of the interior line stuffing DeShaun Foster and the Bruin running attack on the inside while Fred Shavies, Issac Brown, D.D. Acholonu and Tupo Tuppo blasted in the from the ends. In all, they posted eight tackles for loss.

"We realized this week it was going to be up to the defensive front," said Shavies, who caused a fumble that linebacker Al Genatone turned into paydirt. "We (the D-line) looked into each other's eyes and we knew we had to step up and come to play this week."

There was cornerback Marcus Trufant, his broken thumb wrapped to the hilt, returning to action for the first time since September. Rusty? Not this kid. The Pride of Tacoma picked off one pass, defleected another, sent one Bruin receiver to the hospital, made two tackles for losses and generally played like the All-American candidate he will be next year.

There was Curtis Nettles playing like a mad man on punt coverage. Put 50 pounds and another six inches on him and he's a veritable Mark Fields.

Which brings us to Genatone, the sophomore linebacker from Kennewick who plays in prime time thanks to Champ Simmons and Curtis Holden. Ripped to shreds by no less than The Sporting News after the Stanford game, Genatone looked like the second-coming of Fields when he gobbled up a Foster fumble and ran 73 yards for what would be the winning touchdown.

Redemption doesn't get much better than that.

But no Cougar defender was more prominent Saturday than Thompson, the senior free safety. He set a WSU single-game record with four interceptions. And his career total, now 21, ties the Pac-10 mark held by former Arizona star Chuck Cecil.

"Things just went my way," said Thompson. "The D line made it easy for me today, and when the ball went up I just tried to go up and bring it down. It felt good to go out like that in our last game at Martin Stadium. "

Doba, who devised a brilliant game plan aimed at getting the Bruins to put the ball in the air, deflected all praise toward his troops.

"To go from giving up over 400 (rushing) yards (to Oregon) to 80 tonight shows the great character of our guys," he said. "We knew if we forced them to throw the ball we had a chance. It wasn't about the X's and O's tonight, it was about the kids."

The Bruins started quarterback Ryan McCann in place of starter Cory Paus, who re-injured a thumb injury last week against Stanford. McCann threw two first-half picks, one to Thompson and another to Trufant.

"I think we worked hard and played as a team tonight," Trufant said. "We were just flying around and making big plays tonight. That's what we practice for and that's what we play for; the big game that comes down to the wire and it's awesome."

Paus came into the game midway through the second quarter in an attempt to stop the bleeding. He finished the day with three picks of his own, all by Thompson.

"The kids just did a great job bouncing back today after last week," said WSU defensive line coach Rob Akey said. "I don't think I can give enough credit to the team's effort tonight."

Even amid all the locker room excitement, the hallmark of this time --- working hard --- came shining through. Said senior safety Billy Newman: "We're going to enjoy tonight and then come out tomorrow and get focused for next week (vs. Arizona State)."


While the Cougar defense stepped up, the Cougar offense struggled mightily. Jason Gesser was under a constant pressure, throwing him and his receivers way out of sync for the majority of the game as overthrows, under throws and dropped balls were more the norm than the exception. Gesser went 13-36 for 195 yards and tossed three picks, including one that was returned for a Bruin TD. The Cougs also failed to convert on three fourth-and-one plays.

"This was a tough game for us," Gesser said. "I should have played better. I made a lot of mistakes. We usually get better every week and my performance wasn't better than last week, but like Mike (Bush) was telling me after the game, it's still a win and we're still in it."


* For the second straight game the Cougars had only three penalties, two of them being pass interference calls. UCLA had 11 penalties.

* WSU senior tight end Mark Baldwin's winding 27-yard TD reception in the first quarter was his first touchdown in Martin Stadium. He had one on the road, at Stanford, earlier this season.

* Rien Long and Jeremey Williams were WSU's top tacklers with eight stops each.

* Talking about great timing. WSU had a ton of prep prospects on hand for the game. And everything came together. The weather was beautiful. The stands were full and fired up. And the Cougars win in dramatic fashion.

* UCLA linebacker Robert Thomas showed why he's the Pac-10's top tackler. He was all over the field, posting 18 total stops.

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