COUGS SHOCK WILDCATS WITH AMAZING FINISH

IT WAS OVER. The Cougs had fought and clawed their way back but the hole was just too deep. Despite moving the ball behind a suddenly rejuvenated offensive line, WSU's earlier miscues had sealed their fate. Arizona, with a first down and but 1:25 to play, was surely destined to run out the clock. But the Cougar defense again came up with the biggest of plays, wresting a victory and producing a win that'll be talked about both out on the Palouse and down in the desert for a very, very long time.

Watching the game, you would have thought they dipped the ball in oil. Tell you what, we'll get back to that one.

The only place to start is with the finish.

Pat Bennett waited. The senior linebacker didn't over-pursue, didn't get out of position. Gilbert Harris was rumbling towards him with both hands firmly on the ball and Bennett sat down in his path...waiting. And then the linebacker moved forward, zeroing in on the football.

Teammate Aaron Johnson fought off his block and with a supreme effort, stretched himself as far as he could, latching onto Harris' right arm. The arm that held the football. The arm that carried an almost certain Wildcat victory.

Bennett, arm and football met. The pigskin launched into the air as if sprung from a trampoline -- straight up, fifteen feet in the air. When it returned to earth, it settled in the waiting arms of Husain Abdullah.

For a moment.

In this game, fittingly, the ball was stripped loose from Abdullah but Scott Davis gathered it and raced into the end zone, the former high school running back switching the ball to the proper hand and chilling QB Kris Heavner with a stiff-arm along the way.

It should have ended there. But of course, this game couldn't end on that note. Not this game. No, this game's script called for the WSU offense to win it. To earn it.

The officials ruled Abdullah down by contact, (he wasn't), and the touchdown came off the board. The offense, having spent so much of the contest in a self-destructing haze, had one more chance. One last chance at redemption.

They delivered. Oh, did they ever.

Josh Swogger, with LB Pat Howard draped around his waist and pulling him toward defeat, hit Michael Bumpus for thirteen yards down to the Wildcat fifteen-yard line. After an incompletion, the strong armed (and just plain damned strong in general), quarterback lofted a perfect touch pass to Jason Hill in the right corner of the end zone.

It was the big-play receiver's second touchdown of the quarter.

A final defensive stop and the Cougs walked out of the desert with the most improbable of victories, defeating the Wildcats by a score of 20-19.

Swogger, playing with an unfamiliar knee brace to protect a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament, was 18-37 with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

But oh, what a ride.

WASHINGTON STATE moved the ball almost at will against a tough Arizona defense in the first half...and then they gave it away. Arizona put it on the ground three times but couldn't match the five Cougar fumbles (losing three) in the opening half.

You can't point at the offensive line for this one.

The line, decidedly underwhelming to this early point in the season, found their stride this Saturday. They did their job, and then some, against a strong Arizona defense.

Tackles Calvin Armstrong and Sam Lightbody sealed the end and kept the heat off Swogger. The guard tandem of Bobby Byrd and Patrick Afif along with center Nick Mihlhauser opened wide holes and stuffed the pass rush of Arizona.

All told, the line provided stellar pass protection this late September afternoon and allowed but one sack on the day.

Still, the offensive miscues were legion.

The Cougs fumbled the ball seven times, losing four of them. Two snaps out of the shotgun arrived as if fired out of a cannon; one was a turnover, the other a big loss. Swogger, after a promising beginning, was just off-target enough during an extended stretch to turn would-be big plays into harmless incompletions. The brace appeared to hamper his throwing motion and may have accounted for some of the inconsistency.

Still, a few untimely drops of on-target passes also stymied Cougar drives. Penalties added to the self-inflcited wounds; the laundry flew against the Cougs for, really, the first time this season. The Cougs were penalized 11 times for 81 yards.

But the offense kept battling. They refused to give up and when the touchdown run by Davis was taken away, they still had a final opportunity.

They seized it.

YET ANOTHER STRONG EFFORT by the Cougar defense kept hope alive on this day. While the offense couldn't hang onto the football, the defense was nothing short of brilliant early on -- three first-quarter possessions for Arizona all resulted in three-and-outs. Davis, Will Derting and company allowed 6 yards on nine plays in that first 15 minutes. The WSU defense held Arizona to 14 total rushing yards in the first half.

Davis finished with a game-high nine tackles while Derting turned in another scintillating game with eight total tackles (1.5 TFL, 1 sack) and broke up three passes for good measure.

Because of the way it ended, with the offense scoring the points that put the Cougs over the top, this was truly a team victory.

The defense shut down Arizona most of the game and came up huge in crunch time. The coverage on kickoffs and punts was excellent. And for all its faults, the offense moved the ball in a way few expected -- against a stout Arizona defense.

The offensive line's performance might be overshadowed by the blinding glare cast from the fumbles and mistakes.

It shouldn't.

And ultimately, and despite all the miscues, the offense made the plays when it mattered the most.

This was the kind of game a season can turn on. Lose this game and the missed chances could haunt you for quite a while. Win this game, and all the mistakes suddenly don't hurt nearly as much. Another team might have let all the adversity spell their doom. Not this team.

That spells character.

Notes
The bye week couldn't arrive at a better time.

Tight end Troy Bienemann , seemingly on his way to another huge game, suffered a leg injury midway though the first quarter. X-rays were negative but after returning briefly, his day was done. Bienemann finished with four catches for 42 yards despite the limited playing time.

Cody Boyd suffered a badly separated shoulder in the first half. Early reports indicate Boyd tore a ligament; a third-degree AC separation that will sideline the tight end 5-6 weeks. More on his injury should be known Sunday. Boyd made a fantastic reach-back grab on the play he was injured.

Husain Abdullah and Omowale Dada saw considerable action in crunch time. The younger Abdullah has earned more and more playing time each game.

Kyle Basler had an 87-yard punt. That is not a misprint. But it is a new Cougar record, passing Gavin Hedrick's record 83-yard punt from 1975. Hedrick also kicked an 82-yarder in 1977.

SCORING SUMMARY

First Quarter
WSU: Harrison 3-yard run (Langley kick)

Second Quarter
UA: Steptoe 47-yard pass from Heavner (Folk kick)

Third Quarter
UA: Folk 23-yard FG)
UA: Folk 37-yard FG

Fourth Quarter
WSU: Hill 43-yard pass from Swogger (Langley kick)
UA: Steptoe 23-yard pass from Heavner (run failed)
WSU: Hill 15-yard pass from Swogger (pass failed)


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