Devard Darling reacts after scoring the winning TD against Cal. (AP/Paul Sakuma)
Because the Crimson Soldiers who walked onto Berkeley's Memorial Stadium field following halftime today didn't much resemble the squad we've seen through four -- and a half -- games this year.
In fact, these Cougars --- the ones who stormed 39 second-half points of thunder and lightening on Strawberry Canyon --- more resembled the preseason media darlings we'd spent all summer reading about.
But panic buttons were no doubt being pressed throughout the Pacific Northwest during the first half as the resurgent Golden Bears --- behind Kyle Boller's accurate arm and Joe Igber's artistic ground work --- jumped out to 14-0 lead with the paint barely dry on the first quarter. Adding insult to injury, the Cubs spoiled the lone Cougar first half touchdown --- an 11-yard Jason Gesser to Scott Lunde pass --- by blocking the extra-point attempt. And it's unlikely those panic buttons were resting much as the first 30 expired with Cal up a seemingly comfortable 21-9.
The Cougar locker room, though, was a picture of calm. "Nobody panicked, nobody was screaming and hollering," said Price.
It was all business.
Enter the second season.
Suddenly, that Cougar team we'd been waiting five weeks to see emerged. Suddenly, Gesser's dislocated rib and Jerome Riley's bum hamstring be damned. By the time the dust settled on this shootout in Strawberry Canyon, Gesser had covered 431 air yards, fourth-best ever by a Cougar QB, completing 28 of 44 and striking scoreboard gold four times. And his marquee receiving corps, The Trio --- Mike Bush, Devard Darling, and Riley --- lived up to their preseason billing with each crossing the goal line once and each exceeding the century mark in yardage.
But that's not to say Cal rolled over and played dead.
Although it appeared they would, as the Cougs scored 21 unanswered points in the third quarter, beginning with John Tippins' 6-yard TD run that capped a 10 play, 68-yard drive. Three minutes later, Bush pulled in a Gesser pass from 10-yards out and WSU stretched their first lead of the game to 3 points when Lunde was on the receiving end of a two-point conversion. It seemed to be nail-in-the-coffin time next, as D.D. Acholonu blocked a Bear punt and Erik Coleman took it in for a stolen six (his second TD in as many weeks) and widened the Cougar lead to 10.
Yet Cal quickly whittled that WSU lead back down to three, as Boller orchestrated a 57-second, 75-yard scoring drive capped by a slick tackle-eligible pass straight out of the leather-helmet era.
The Cougars answered by giving the 30,000 in attendance a lesson in the potential awesomeness of their offense, with Gesser completions covering 75-yards in two plays, the second going to Riley for a touchdown from 31-yards out.
And still Cal refused to say "uncle."
Just the opposite: After again narrowing the Cougar lead to three early in the fourth quarter, WSU fumbled the ensuing kickoff on the 9-yard line. But the Cougar D stiffened -- which may turn out to be the pivotal stand of the season -- and held the Bears to a field goal, tying the game at 38.
But there would be no more rabbits in the hat for the Berkeley bunch.
Gesser culminated another textbook 75-yard scoring drive by hitting Darling in the endzone from the 6-yard line, Jason David picked off a Boller toss, and Drew Dunning added 3 more points on a 48-yard field goal. Game over.
The Cougs moved to 4-1, 1-0 on the season, while Cal fell to 3-2, 0-1.
MOPEDS NO MORE
Even though Cal has dropped two in a row after opening the season with three W's, it's clear to all who have crossed their path that this is a Golden Bear team unlike any seen in Berkeley for some time.
"They're a good team," Price said. "Jeff (Tedford, Cal coach) has done a fantastic job, they're much better than last year."
Boller had a career best day against the Cougs, throwing for 374 yards and 4 TDs. The two WSU interceptions matched his season total. He still sports a randy 12/4 TD/INT ratio.
With 95 first half yards, it appeared Igber might give the Cougar defense one of those nightmare days in the Maurice Clarett or Onterrio Smith mold. But half-time adjustments and a productive third quarter on offense that forced Cal to pass more and run less, helped the Crimson defenders limit Little Joe to 16 second half yards.
A PERFECT TEN … FOR TEN
Collin Henderson wasted no time in adding to his already legendary career passing numbers. The first crimson pass of the day was a Henderson-to-Darling strike that covered 43-yards, making the senior flanker an incredible 10 for 10 as a Cougar passer. The Pride of Puyallup also caught two Gesser tosses for 24 yards, including a leaping effort that set up Drew Dunning's 48-yard field goal with 2:27 left on the clock.
OBSCURE STAT TIME
Though it's doubtful any citizens of the Cougar Nation were celebrating the nine second quarter points scored by Wazzu today, that point total may be more significant than first meets the eye. Up until today Cal had not allowed a single second-quarter point all season.
TRIVIAL PUMA PURSUIT
Gesser's 431 passing yards fell just 1-yard shy of his personal best, tallied last season against Cal. Today's air production, coupled with Henderson's completion gave WSU 474 passing yards for the day, the second-best Cougar day ever. Former Coug greats Drew Bledsoe and Mike Pattinson hold the mark of 492 yards, set by the pair in the 1992 Copper Bowl victory over Utah.
As if his production so far this season hadn't been enough cause, the eight-point effort by Lunde leave us with nothing to say but this: GIVE SCOTT A SCHOLARSHIP!
NEXT ON THE AGENDA
Should be a dandy next weekend at Martin Stadium as the Cougs play Southern Cal in front of a homecoming crowd and national TV (TBS) audience. Kickoff is at 4 pm. The Trojans dismantled Oregon State today, 22-0.