The unsung Taylor

STARING DEFEAT square in the face, the Cougs had four more downs on defense and not enough time. Moments later, WSU was up by one and the clock was now their ally. A miracle in the desert. Except for one thing. Arizona had a good return on -- only one Cougar stood between the return man and a mile of green.

Everyone remembers the fumble. In the waning moments of the Arizona victory, the ball shooting skyward as if launched from a geyser. The partisan crowd's collective gasp. The defensive touchdown called back. Washington State hitting paydirt three plays later in the most improbable of comebacks.

Most people don't remember another key play, one of the best special teams tackles of the year. Truth be told, there was already some celebrating going on over on the Washington State sideline.

But there were 53 ticks left on the clock, an eternity in college football for a team needing only a field goal to win. And when the Wildcats ran a fake reverse on the kickoff return, the Cougs bit.

Three men were in their lanes on the far side, just where they're supposed to be, looking to shut down the right side. But Arizona's return man, after faking the handoff, was headed left.

Two Cougars in the middle couldn't close fast enough. Another had a tough angle and probably too much ground to make up -- it would have taken a miracle for him to track down the faster Wildcat.

Of the five that remained, one could have probably gotten there, but not until about the 40-yard line. Two more were left of center and had just started to race back to the right side. One other was desperately trying to fight off a block.

The last of the 11 men on the Washington State coverage team was Jesse Taylor.

Syndric Steptoe, a shifty 5-9, 170-pound burner who has posted a 4.39 forty time, had just Taylor to beat and then glory was within his grasp. He juked but Taylor stuck with him, angling his 6-3, 242 pound frame to match.

One on one, out in space, Taylor took him down. Arizona's last remaining hopes went down with him.

The stat sheet will show Steptoe returned the kick only out to the 18-yard line. What it won't show you is that without Taylor's tackle, Steptoe might still be running.

What will be remembered about the game are the two TD grabs by Jason Hill, one the deciding score. The textbook hit by Pat Bennett, the Forks, Wash., native who forced the critical turnover. The Johnny-on-the-spot recovery by Husain Abdullah followed by a strip and then a gallop into the end zone by Scott Davis, the former running back from Kennewick who had the presence of mind to shift the ball to the proper hand as he shoved away a would-be tackler and took it in. The defensive touchdown being called back, momentarily delaying the Washington State celebration.

But what should also be remembered was Taylor's play, one that sealed the victory. Steptoe and Arizona really had something going on that return, the stuff that nightmares are made of -- Taylor shut it down with one of the best one-on-one special teams tackles you'll see.

AFTER THE MIRACLE in the desert, it looked like the Cougs were ready to roll. The Arizona win would be the catalyst -- Washington State would plow through the schedule's midsection, laying waste to the opposition with three of the four slated for Martin Stadium. Not quite.

What followed instead was an October of torment as the Cougs dropped four in a row. They traveled to UCLA in search of their swagger, a 14 point underdog with a 3-5 record. Before they would win two of their next three, before they would cap the season with an Apple Cup victory, they needed a spark.

Coach Bill Doba told his staff as the UCLA game approached, "We need something good to happen early."

It did. And Taylor, a West Hills, Calif., native whose father Greg Taylor was a starting offensive lineman on the Bruins' victorious 1976 Rose Bowl team, was in the middle of it.

On the opening kickoff, Husain Abdullah caused a fumble this time, sticking the Bruins' Tab Perry. The ball skittered about between and betwixt a phalanx of bodies, with two UCLA players diving for it the same time as Jesse Taylor did.

Taylor came up with the ball.

The Cougs scored on the first play, an ankle breaking 25-yard scamper by Jerome Harrison.

The 2004 UCLA game will forever be known as the game in which Harrison, a first year Coug, made history with 247 rushing yards on 42 carries in the third best rushing effort all-time for WSU. And well it should.

It should also be known for plays like Jesse Taylor's. The little things that aren't so little. The plays away from the limelight that are ultimately so critical.

TAYLOR WAS A STAR at Chaminade High. He earned the starting tight end spot for the Cougs as a true freshman. But in the '02 opener, he broke his hand and was lost for the season.

With the emergence of tight ends Troy Bienemann and Cody Boyd, Taylor is the third option in most sets at tight end. He's not the sort to hang his head. He's making plays -- 6 solo special teams tackles in '04 -- and paving the road as a situational blocker. He is a significant cog on a team poised to make their run in '05.

Said former Chaminade coach Ed Croson of Taylor, "He's a great kid, a great football player."

Yes he is.

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