After OT loss: Finish is word on Cougs' lips

PULLMAN -– Fueled by a raucous crowd, Jerome Harrison's legs and the people movers up front led by Nick Mihlhauser, it looked for a long while Saturday like Ol' Wazzu was going to reclaim its season-gone-awry. They had No. 12 UCLA on the ropes but couldn't land the knockout punch. The chances were many to put these undefeated Bruins away. But in the end, the Cougars' old bugaboo, failure to close the deal in the fourth quarter, provide ruinous. Hearbreakingly so.

Cougars vs. Bruins
The Bruins' time of possession was nearly 10 minutes greater than the Cougars.

The WSU offensive line, which sustained blocks and got upfield quickly, enabling all-world running back Jerome Harrison to rumble for 260 yards – 182 of them in the first half. Also, the OL didn't allow a sack.

The defense couldn't seem to get itself off the field in the second half, but the Cougar O going 3-and-out on their first three possessions of the fourth quarter proved critical.

Eric Frampton 12, Greg Trent 12, Wally Dada 11, Mkristo Bruce 8, Scott Davis 8

The Cougars (3-3) travel to Cal (4-2) next Saturday for a 7 pm game to be televised on FSN. The Bears lost today to Oregon State and last week to UCLA.

In fact, downright torturous, because the Cougars led by 21 at two different junctures. And because they appeared to put the proverbial nail in the coffins at the end of the third quarter when Alex Brink sprinted to paydirt on the left side to make the score 38-17. And because it took an overtime period before the Bruins could eventually inch by them.

As the third quarter ticked down, it seemed the Cougs were ready to get there march to a bowl game back on track. But then the momentum shifted irrevocably with three straight, oh-so-costly, WSU penalties. UCLA rode that momentum for a touchdown. And then a field goal. And then, with just 44 seconds left, another touchdown to force overtime on the way to the 44-41 win.

The porous Cougar defense was the biggest culprit, but by no means the sole perpetrator. The Cougar O that had piled up 38 points over the first 45 minutes went three-and-out three straight times in the fourth.

"We have to learn how to finish," coach Bill Doba said. "We just couldn't get a turnover. They fumbled and they recovered it. We got so close, but close doesn't count, only in horse shoes and hand grenades."

"It was very disappointing," defensive coordinator Robb Akey said. "(The defense) played their tails off, but they missed some tackles. There are a lot of hurt players in that locker room. They left it on the field. There are little things we have to do better."

Akey didn't like the key three-play stretch of penalties, which took the Bruins from their own 20 to the WSU 24.

"That was brutal," Akey said. "I'm not happy about that. That's not going to be acceptable. I don't expect them to make those mistakes. But they're competing. We will get it better."

One of those penalties was a roughing the passer call against Adam Braidwood.

"That was tough," Braidwood said of the penalties. "That killed us. We gave them that touchdown, with those 45 yards. I thought the referees did a good job. I take responsibility for my penalty. That really kills the momentum."

Braidwood, who posted two sacks on the day and came close to three others, said the offense shouldn't bear the brunt of the blame for Saturday's heartbreaking loss.

"The offense did their job," he said. "They put points on the board the whole game. We gave up (24) points in the second half. That's not acceptable. We have got to work on that."

Offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller, meanwhile, said his side of the ball should have kept putting points on the board.

"We had a real solid game plan, and we executed it," he said. "Obviously we've got to finish. We didn't get first downs (in the fourth). It's our responsibility as an offense to try and do that."

Braidwood nodded when reminded this is the second time in three games the Cougs have let the opposing team come back in the second half.

"It's tough," he said, in reference to the Oregon State loss. "That was a different game. The team was more flat in that game, and our offense had turnovers that game. It was up to the defense to stop them."

In the Oregon State loss, Alex Brink threw four second half interceptions, while he threw none the whole game against UCLA and completed 19 of 35 passes for 169 yards and two TDs.

Brink, as one might expect, was down afterward.

"Right now I think we are all pretty down," he said. "That was a winnable game. If they are the 12th (ranked) team in the nation, I don't know where we should be at. We just didn't play 60 minutes of football, or 65 minutes of football, whatever it was."

Jerome Harrison rushed for 260 yards Saturday, the third-best rushing game in WSU history. His 247 yards last year against UCLA is tied for fifth best.

"You've got to be (frustrated)," he said. "You can't never be satisfied with a loss. We played so hard. They're the No. 12 team in the country and we really kicked their butts the whole way except for the end. That really, really hurt us. I won't be able to swallow that one.

"We just got to learn how to finish," added Harrison, who now has 1,001 yards of rushing on the season and has rushed for 100+ yards in nine straight games, a streak that started last year against UCLA. "I think the offense and I think the defense is playing very well. Once we learn how to finish we'll be alright."

While the Cougs have a difficult task in bouncing back from a game that seemed certain to end up in the W column, just bouncing back the last two weeks was difficult as well.

"Right now we've got to pull up by the boot straps," Levenseller said. "We're going to hang in there and get through it. That's why I'm proud of this place – you fight."

Brink noted he hasn't been a situation of losing three games in a row like this as a starter before.

"I guess the only thing I know how to do is go out and work harder, and just get better," he said. "We are, and we are going to improve….Obviously we are down, but we have to bounce back. We have five more games to play and we are looking to go to a bowl still. We are not going to stay down too long. We are going to come back fighting.

Doba was proud of how his team bounced back from last week's lackluster loss to Stanford.

"The kids were tired of getting back," Doba said. "They felt like they could have won the last two and we had a good week of practice. This will be a real tough week because I thought the coaches did a great job. They got them ready to play and we came out ready, but we just couldn't finish.

"It is tough coming back and getting up each week without that win. It is a real test of character and it will be up to us as coaches to try and lead them, to get them back. They are starting to get frustrated. So are we, so are our fans. I thought (the fans) were good today. They were loud. I'm sorry to disappoint them."

Doba pointedly added the loss didn't ‘confirm anything' about the team. "When you say ‘this confirms' and ‘our worst fears' that means I am giving up," Doba said. "We're not giving up, I promise you that. We'll be ready next week."

Levenseller reiterated what Doba had said earlier in the week about the players being the only one to believe they could win during the week.

"The rest of the world cancelled our season last week," Levenseller said.

Jason Hill, listed as a game-time decision following his injury at Oregon State, caught eight passes for 65 yards and one touchdown. "He adds another whole dimension (to the offense)," Brink said. "He's a guy who can go deep for you but also a guy who is good underneath. He makes plays so having him in the game definitely helped."

Jerome Harrison, averaging 166.8 yards a game, scored on the opening drive with his 57-yard scamper. He knew early he would have a big day, thanks to his line. "(In huddle) I looked in my linemen's eyes and they had a determination," Harrison said. "I have been here about a year and a half almost now. I've looked in my offensive linemen's eyes and had never seen that look that they had. They just had a look in their eyes, of determination. It was after the third or fourth carry. That just really lit me up inside."

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