Game recap, PLUS scoring summary & stats
Return to the Valley of the Sun, circa 1965, and weep over a pair of calls that ultimately separated WSU's fabled Cardiac Kids from a Rose Bowl berth.
Pull out the grainy tape of Larry Eilmes crossing of the goal line in the third quarter and the official's subsequent spot at the one-foot-line. Focus in on that seamless two-point conversion toss from Tom Roth to Ammon McWashington in the final minute to win by a point. Oops. Nullfied? Too much time? What?
Turns out the official charged with keeping time was using a watch with a sweep second-hand.
YOU DON'T HAVE to go back to the Age of Aquarius to find examples of crimson injustice, though.
That unsportsman-like call on Billy Newman near the goal line in the fourth quarter Saturday night was one for Ripley's.
Fortunately for Lamont Thompson, the refs weren't handing out unsportsman-like conduct calls during the first quarter when he celebrated an interception with teammates Billy Newman and Karl Paymah. (Matt York/AP Photo)
Or how about two weeks ago when an Oregon defender saw fit to practically remove Mike Bush from his jersey before Jason Gesser's final pass of the night arrived.
Where was the call then? Will that turn out to be the play that decides the Pac-10 race?
How about two years ago when Arizona's Bobby Wade put on the best acting performance this side of Meryl Streep to turn an incomplete Hail Mary at the gun into a Wildcat victory?
And, of course, is there any need to even mention the final two seconds of the 1998 Rose Bowl?
In the glow of an eight-tackle day, Newman insisted after WSU's 28-16 win over Arizona State on Saturday that Andrew Walter's fumble-heard-round-the-desert was indeed coming out of the young quarterback's arms before his knees hit the turf.
Smith said he didn't know. He tackled Walter, the ball was on the ground and there was no whistle. What's a future NFL draft pick to do?
Walter was diplomatic, too. "I thought I was down, but it doesn't matter. We didn't play well enough to win."
But it doesn't really matter who's right and who's wrong.
For starters, you see, the Cougars won their ninth game of the season by 12 points, not seven. That simple fact, of course, pays little deference to the fact Smith -- making his second appearance in the endzone this season --- irrevocably altered the tone and momentum of the game.
And that's just fine.
The Cougars deserve to get a judgment call every five years or so. After three post-Rose Bowl seasons from hell, this seemed only fair.
They all even out in the end anyway, right?
No, not usually.
But if Rick Neuheisel can count on a good half-dozen improbable breaks per season, then Mike Price deserves one in the twilight of a season so shockingly surprising that anything less than a victory here would have to be viewed as a sleight to the gods of gridiron destiny.
Moreover, to have wasted Jerome Riley's six catch, 158-yard, two-TD artistry at receiver would have been cruel. To tarnish Lamont Thompson's Pac-10 record-setting 22nd career interception would border on crass. And to see that edge-of-your goal-line stand late in the third quarter go for naught would have soured a defining moment for one of the Pac-10 next-great trench warriors, sophomore Rien Long.
"The Cougars have never had a break like that all season," Price said about The Fumble that will no doubt live for years in series lore. "We've earned every win, including this one."
In fact, Price was far from conceding that a bad call was made. From his vantage point, he said, Walter did lose the ball before he touched down. "But what else do you expect me to say?" asks the man who for the second time in five years has the Cougars standing at 9-1 heading into the Apple Cup.
Sun Devil fans, after seeing the scoreboard replay, were riled enough to rain down boos, tortillas and who-knows-what-all-else after Smith hog tied Walter, scooped up the loose ball and raced 27 yards to put the Cougars up 21-9.
The crimson faithful feel their pain. Been there. Done that. Again, and again and again.
We've waited 37 years for this particular pay back.
AND, IN A SENSE, we waited all game for it.
Yes, these Cougars have a knack for the inexplicable. They consistently pull stuff out of the proverbial hat. When the offense sputters, the defense shines. When the defense falters, the offense manages to get it done.
Take the UCLA game last week when Nakoa McElrath dropped that sure TD pass. In the old days, that would have pretty much sealed the Cougars' fate. Remember Nian Taylor and Idaho in '99?
Not this team. Linebacker Al Genatone of all people picks up a fumble and runs 73 yards for the winning TD. The Oregon game offers additional evidence. The Cougars were dominated all day long, yet they were still right there, poised to win, at the end.
And the most amazing thing about it all is that Cougars have done it while fighting the injury bug. Ever wonder why WSU's record in November traditionally was about on par with Greg Norman's April's in Augusta?
If you look at the 1997 Cougars or Drew Bledsoe's 1992 edition, one thing stands out about both: Great health.
Not this team. They've been the walking wounded since late September. When Gesser went down in the second half seeing stars, you just had to wonder if the magic was over. With understudy Matt Kegel getting tossed around like a sack of spuds, you REALLY had to wonder.
But then Mike Bush, making like on a baseline drive to the hoop, turns a six-yard gainer into a 55-yard sprint to the ASU 21-yard-line. On the very next play, running back Dave Minnich tosses a wobbler to Collin Henderson in the endzone.
Cougs win, Cougs win, Cougs win.
It wasn't pretty. And it wasn't easy. But here they are at 9-1 and tied for the conference lead with a second New Year's Day bowl game in five years just one Apple Cup victory away.
ONWARD CRIMSON SOLDIERS!
Raonall Smith's TD was his second of the season and the WSU defense's seventh of the year. Others visiting paydirt were Al Genatone, Billy Newman, Lamont Thompson, James Price, and Erik Coleman.
Jason Gesser joined an elite club with WSU's victory over ASU. He's one of only three quarterbacks in WSU history to guide the Cougars to nine victories in their first ten games. The others were Elmer Schwartz of the 1930 Rose Bowl Cougars and Ryan Leaf of the 1998 Rose Bowl Cougars.
If Pac-10 co-leaders WSU and Oregon eacb win their final conference game -- WSU at Washington next week and Oregon at home vs. OSU on Dec. 1, then they'll tie for the Pac-10 championship. Oregon, however, would get the Fiesta Bowl nod by virtue of beating WSU in the first tie-breaker: head-to-head result.
With five sacks against ASU, the Cougars now have a league-leading 34 on the season.
Arizona State, now 4-5 overall and 1-5 in the Pac-10, hasn't beaten a Top 25 team since knocking off the 1997 Rose Bowl-bound Cougars 44-31.
With Washington and Florida State both losing Saturday, look for WSU to crack the Top Ten in both the AP and ESPN polls.
Cycling through five quarterbacks in a game that's not a rout must be some sort of record. For the Cougars, it was Gesser and Kegel, For the Devils it was Jeff Krohn, Andrew Walter and Matt Cooper.