Bowl hopes turn precarious after nailbiting loss

PULLMAN -– Maybe it was the 7:15 kickoff, keeping these young WSU Cougars up past their bedtime. Or perhaps it was the lingering effects of that Fourth Quarter from Hell last week with Oregon. Whatever the reason, the Cougs looked like they were sleepwalking through the first three quarters Saturday night against Stanford.

They awoke with a vengeance, though, closing to within three after trailing by 17. But it proved to be too little, too late, casting a major league pall over bowl game chances.

For the second time in as many weeks, the Cougars' penchant for living dangerously -– five of their six games have been decided in the final minute -– bit them in the rear-end.

"Today we really played hard. Our defense played extremely hard and gave us an opportunity at the end," said WSU offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller. "I am not going to panic. We are going to come out of these past few games one heckuva team. After today's game the guys in the locker room truly felt the pain of this loss, and no one was joking around, and that really shows how much these guys have matured so far this season."

This one ended at the Stanford eight-yard-line, with 55 ticks left on the clock. That's where Josh Swogger's fourth-down Hail Mary landed -– about seven yards beyond Jason Hill's reach.

Stanford 23, Washington State 17. The Cougars had more first downs, more rushing yards and more passing yards.

But one line from the stat sheet superseded all of it: Four turnovers for the Cougars, one for the Card. Add in nine penalties, including two on the final possession, and you understand why one pundit quipped that the Cougars played hard, but not smart.

It's a loss with far-reaching implications. In the span of eight days a team that was 3-1 and had head coach Bill Doba thinking his troops were on the verge of becoming "very good," is now 3-3 with three of their final five games on the road and one of the two home dates against mighty USC. To qualify for the post-season the Cougars will need to win three of those five games.

"I told our kids we have our back against the wall," said Doba. "The good thing is we get to go play Oregon State next week and then get a shot at the No. 1 team in the nation."

Stanford, behind a veteran defense and a quarterback Bill Walsh likens to Jim Plunkett and John Elway, took the proverbial wood to the Cougars in the second and third quarters. When sophomore QB Trent Edwards hit Evan Moore on a 67-yard scoring aerial on the first snap of the third to put the Card up 20-3, it seemed only fitting that the Cougars were wearing a uniform combination -– silver pants, crimson jerseys, silver helmets -– last seen in the dog days when it seemed so many games were lost at the end.

The flashback to the strange era when Washington State didn't routinely win 10 games in a season turned into a full-length feature later in the quarter. The Cougars turned over the ball on downs on the Stanford 2 after an 89-yard drive and then, moments later, fumbled away a gift-wrapped scoring chance at the Stanford one-yard-line following senior safety Hamza Abdullah's pick of Edwards at the Card three.

Such were the struggles of the Cougar offense. In the first quarter, Michael Bumpus returned a punt 47 yards to the Stanford 18 and the O could advance the ball only four more hashes, settling for Loren Langley's 27-yard yard trey out to go up 3-0.

That was the Cougars' highwater mark of the first half. Six other possessions produced four punts, a missed field goal and an interception.

Josh Swogger -– gutting it out on a gimpy ankle, foot and knee -- will be seeing safety and cornerback blitzes in his sleep. His receivers will have nightmares of mid-range balls arriving behind them and long-range ones being underthrown.

Stanford's speedy 3-4 defense had its way with the Cougars for nearly three quarters. And then the light went on with just less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Cougars drove 47 yards on six plays, closing within 20-10 on Jerome Harrison's 10-yard dance down the right sideline. They scored on their next drive, too, when Swogger aired out a beauty to Jason Hill covering 30 yards. That narrowed the score to 20-17.

Hill, now within one of tying WSU's single-season TD reception record, had another huge night, pulling down five passes for 115 yards. Bumpus was big as well, catching five passes for 56 yards and returning five punts for 71 yards. He's on track to challenge WSU's single-season record most punt return yards.

Swogger was 18 of 37 for 256 yards, one TD and three INTs. Edwards, who had the Cougar D bewitched and befuddled in the first half, was 15 of 31 for 200 yards, one TD and one interception. He also rushed for 33 yards.

MONSTER GAMES ON D: Cougar linebacker Scott Savis took over the team lead in tackles with 17 stops against the Card. He has 55 for the season -- four more than Will Derting, who had 12 tackles against Stanford. DE Adam Braidwood had a breakout night, with eight primary tackles and four assists -- output that equaled his entire season total coming into the contest.

WITH THAT FOURTH QUARTER TD reception against the Card, WSU sophomore receiver Jason Hill now has nine for the season. He needs just one more to tie the WSU sophomore record, set by legendary Hugh Campbell in 1960, and two more to tie the school single-season record of 11 TD receptions held by Kevin McKenzie (1997), Chris Jackson (1997) and Devard Darling (2002). The Cougar single-season record for total TDs is 17, set by rushing and catching phenom Steve Broussard in 1989. Campbell, who was first-team All-Coast in 1961-62-63, holds the Cougar career TD receptions record with 22.

FOR THE SECOND WEEK in a row, WSU's running attack – moribund earlier in the season – came alive. The Cougars 191 net ground hashes, with Jerome Harrison gaining 83 yards on 16 carries and surprising Allen Thompson ripping off 76 on nine carries.

THE COUGARS TRAVEL to Corvallis next weekend to battle Oregon State, now 2-4 on the year after beating the Huskies in Seattle, 29-14. Kickoff is at 1 pm.

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