From Promised Land to Heartbreak Hotel

PULLMAN -- Even with divine intervention --- not to mention Jerome Harrison --- on their side, the Cougars weren't able to hang on to the momentum or the lead Saturday night in Pullman. Hail Mary, Harrison and an opportunistic D put the Cougs up 21-10, but No. 11 Oregon kept its BCS hopes alive with a furious final 25 minutes and won in the waning seconds 34-31.

Between the last minutes of the first half and the opening moments of the second, a three-minute span in which the Cougars scored 14 points, it looked for all the world like a season's worth of frustrations and bad bounces would be vanquished for Washington State.

Well, maybe not vanquished, but certainly salved.

Indeed, with Jerome Harrison rushing to a pair of records, Alex Brink and Jason Hill doing the Hail Mary to spectacularly cap the first half, and the WSU defense turning in its finest half of the conference season, the Cougars looked poised to finally take the heartbreak out of 2005.

Even in the face of some curious officiating and the requisite self-inflicted mistakes, the positive omens appeared to be all around. Linebacker Will Derting, the heart and soul of the defense, was back on the field for the first time in five weeks. Ryan Leaf, the hero of the fabled 1997 season, was in the house --- and clad in crimson --- watching his little brother the Duck. It was the final home game for a group of seniors who have three 10-win seasons under their belts.

And the crowd. Oh that crowd. Temperatures were dropping but the decibles kept coming.

But the karma tuned. So convincing was the reversal of fortune that Cougar kicker Loreng Langley's 49-yard field goal attempt, sailing so true, went off the left upright --- the unprecendented second time in two weeks it has happened to him. Football truly is a game of inches.

BUT THESE ARE THE Washington State Cougars. Except for USC, they've taken every Pac-10 opponent to the wire. They could almost as easily be 8-2 or even 9-1 as they are 3-7 and facing the specter of being dead last in the conference.

And so it was Saturday. As Oregon threatened to run away with it, Cougar linebacker Steve Dildine picked off Brady Leaf at the WSU 14 and returned the ball 11 yards. The Cougars proceeded to drive 75 yards in nine plays, capping things off with a Brink TD pass to Troy Bienemann with 10 minutes left in the game.

The Cougar D held on Oregon's next series and then the offense started driving again. Brink rolling out. Brink scrambling. And then Langley connecting on a 45-yard field goal. Tie game. A little more than five minutes on the clock.

The Cougars and their faithful had been down this road before. Would it turn out different? Could it turn out different?

Agonizingly, no.

Like before, the Cougars came away on the short end. Oregon devoured the rest of the clock and 74 yards of field, setting up Paul Martinez for a chip-shot trey with four seconds on the clock.

Thematically speaking, it was a fitting end. The Cougars have lost games in every imaginable, gut-wrenching way this season but until now, a field goal as time expired was not one of them.

NOTES: With 92 first-half yards, Jerome Harrison broke Rueben Mayes' WSU single-season rushing record of 1,639 yards. Harrison finished the game with 143 hashes, giving him 1,697 for the year. The game marked his 13th consecutive of 100 yards or more, setting a new Pac-10 record.

Alex Brink completed 22 of 33 passes for 283 yards and three TDs (one each to Harrison, Hill and Bienemann).

This was the fourth game of the season the Cougars lost after being ahead or tied at halftime.

There were many, but the Cougs' field goal off the upright, and a roughing of the Oregon punter that set up a Duck TD, were critical.

The Cougars (3-7) host Washington (2-8) next Saturday. Kickoff is at 12:15 pm game. Live TV on FSN.

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