Levy: Crucial choice driven by one goal

PULLMAN – Mike Levenseller, Washington State's offensive coordinator, said the Cougars had one thing in mind Saturday when they decided to take a field goal off the board in favor of a chance to score a touchdown with just more than six minutes left in the game. Victory. Not a tie. But the thing that counts at the end of the day: Winning.

And the world knows these oh-so-close Cougars are ready to win again. It's been six weeks.

Levenseller and head coach Bill Doba were so close Saturday they could almost smell the victory cigar. The offense was clicking, especially the running game behind a spirited line and the swift moves of all-world back Jerome Harrison.

The toss sweep on fourth-and-one, though, lost a yard, and instead of walking out of the red zone tied 27-27 or head 31-27, they were still behind, 27-24.

"It's a play that had been working well for us," Levenseller said. "We'll look at it more (Sunday). Tonight, it just hurts. We felt like we could still get another shot. We did, but we couldn't do it. The two field goals were awfully close. It's a game of inches, isn't it?"

Harrison took the setback personally.

"I have no nice words to say about that," said the senior from Kalamazoo, Mich., when asked about how it felt to know the loss eliminated the Cougars' chances for a bowl game, "especially when I feel I was the reason we are not going. I should be able to get a half yard in my sleep, with or without blocking. But I had blocking, so I should have got the half yard."

Harrison, who had his dad's last name -– Persell -- on the back of his jersey in honor of Dad's Day, spoke to reporters afterward while his mom, out from Michigan, stood behind him. "If he says go for it, I'm with him 110 percent," he said when asked about Doba's decision to eschew the field goal.

The Cougar defense, which struggled in the first half but limited ASU to three points in the second, helped set up that key drive, when Mkristo Bruce recovered a Sun Devil fumble.

He and fellow defensive end Adam Braidwood were in full agreement with the call to go for it.

"If you get it, you're the smartest guy in the world," Bruce said. "If I was coach, I would have made the same call. It was the right decision."

Said Braidwood, "We don't play to lose. We play to win around here. (Doba) tried something new, and I respect him for that."

The Cougs needed to win out the last three games in order to be bowl eligible. Now, the best the Cougs can do is finish 5-6, which was their record last year after an Apple Cup win.

"They were not real happy," Doba said of how players dealt with reality in the locker room following their sixth straight loss on Saturday. "I imagine it set in. I think they realize that."

"It is a big surprise," Doba added of the team not going to a bowl after last year's rebuilding effort. "A play here, a play there, an interception or a fumble. We competed well in five of the losses. They could have gone either way."

"It is the worst disappointment," quarterback Alex Brink said of no bowl eligibility for a second straight year. "It is what we were playing for these last three games. We really wanted, obviously, to go to a bowl and get that extra month of practice and have an extra game. We have two games and we just have to battle and work hard.

"You can't throw in the towel and say, ‘We are not going to a bowl so we can't go play these two games,'" he added. "We have to go and work hard and battle. We have something to play for. We need to get a Pac-10 win, and we have big games against the Ducks and the Dawgs."

"We had real high hopes for the season," Braidwood said. "We put together our best effort so far. It's all about pride now. We need to do our fans a service by winning the last two games. Nothing else matters."

To Harrison, the lack of a bowl game far overshadowed the fact he has rushed for more than 100 yards in 12 straight games, and has the second best season so far for a Cougar running back with 1,550 yards. He has two games to surpass the Rueben Mayes single season record of 1,637 yards.

"It doesn't mean a thing," Harrison said. "I'm not going to a bowl. Only these next two games mean something.

"It is disappointing. I would rather have 10 yards and six wins, than all these yards and all these losses. It is very tough. I just feel I should be doing more. If I was doing more we would be winning, so evidently it is not enough yards."

Bruce said the bowl picture was a big factor in the Cougs' second half turnaround. The WSU trailed 24-10 at halftime but looked sharper in the second, particularly on defense with three sacks.

"It was just a different mentality," Bruce said. "I think people started to realize if we don't win this game, we are not going to a bowl game. It didn't turn out our way. But we started to show what real Cougar defense is at the end, which is bringing 11 hats to the ball."

Defensive coordinator Robb Akey liked what he saw in the second half.

"In the second half they did a much better job," Akey said. "I was happy to see they saw the way things were developing. We had better pressure on the quarterback (in the second half).

"In the first half we gave up some big plays. They only had the first drive on us in the second half. Our first half mistakes put us in a hole."

Braidwood had a similar view.

"We've found pretty much every way to lose a game right at the end," he said. "We battled back from a halftime deficit a couple of times, and we've given up halftime leads. We keep finding ways to let it slip through our fingers. We shot ourselves in the foot. We had a lot of penalties we didn't need. You can't do that if you want to win."

Braidwood wasn't the only one noting the officiating, with a couple of crucial calls saving Sun Devil drives.

"I can't comment on the officiating," Doba told radio sideline reporter Bud Namek at the end of the first half. "That's terrible."

Akey also questioned some of the calls. "It was very unfortunate," Akey said. "We go after the quarterback (on the roughing the passer call). We had the drive stopped. I don't get to make the calls. There were some very unfortunate calls, being made when they were."

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