The Greatest Cougar Game Ever Played

MIDWAY THROUGH the second quarter of Saturday's WSU-USC game, when the Trojans had nearly eclipsed the 43-point spread forecast by oddsmakers, it became clear that the Cougars and their nation needed a miracle. They needed D.D. Acholonu at d-end, Rien Long at tackle and Will Derting at outside 'backer. They needed Jason Gesser at quarterback, Jerome Riley at receiver, and Derrick Roche at guard.

And so, rather than regurgitate the sordid mess at Martin on Saturday, we return our programming to another time, another place that wasn't so long ago -- and it's a place that serves as proof-positive that it can be done. And, hopefully, will one day be done again.

And so it's not Oct. 18. 2008 anymore. It's Oct. 5, 2002.

And if you listen very hard and hold very still, you can almost hear the echoes .....

THE HEADLINE MAY be debated in a week, or a month, or a year. But Saturday, for the thunderstick-wielding Martin Stadium crowd and the thousands of Crimson Faithful across the country glued to TBS, there is no doubt. Washington State's 30-27 overtime victory over Southern Cal was the greatest Cougar game of all-time.<br>

"We started rewriting history last season," Cougar quarterback Jason Gesser said. "And we're going to continue rewriting history."


And if any history needed rewriting, it was WSU's legacy of futility against the Trojans. Today's' Cougar victory was just the eighth against the Troyboys dating back to 1921 and coach Mike Price's first in Pullman. But that's all ancient history now, especially considering the Cougs have taken three of the past 5 meetings with SC.


Still, it's difficult to properly put this epic battle into perspective. It's nearly impossible to be analytical when a gridiron contest transcends the black and white, X's and O's world of football into the realm of emotion and electricity that, for those Cougfan eyewitnesses, will become a cherished memory surpassed only by weddings and births.


"Two good football teams got together and put on a show," said Price.


And what a show it was.


Indeed, this match-up of Pac-10 gridiron gladiators seemed to have it all: big runs, big passes, big hits, and big gaffes. But it was a big kick - - or rather, two big kicks - - by Cougar Drew Dunning that turned what could've been another Marinovich moment into a glorious chapter of WSU football history.


Dunning kicked a 35-yard field goal with 1:50 left in regulation play to tie the game at 27. Adding to the drama was the way the pigskin sailed - - make that stumbled - - through the uprights after being tipped by a Trojan defender.


Minutes later, the Issaquah junior was doing a soccer slide at midfield in celebration of his overtime game winning kick, also from 35-yards.


"Honestly, I wasn't thinking about making the kick," Dunning said. "I was only thinking about what I'd do after I made the kick. I've always wanted to do that, slide on the Cougar logo with the fans looking down after kicking a game winner."


Contrasting his performance was that of SC kicker Ryan Killeen. The Trojan missed the extra-point following their final touchdown, an especially crucial 1-point miscue that would've given Southern Cal a 4-point lead and forced WSU to go for a touchdown. The day got worse for Killeen, as his 52-yard attempt in overtime went right.




Aah, the blessing and curse of being a Rien Long.


On the one hand, you're one of the most talented defensive linemen in the nation. On the other, that marquee status brings with it offensive game plans specifically designed to assign double and triple team blocks upon you. But regardless of how many bodies you place in their path, you can only hope to slow players of Long's caliber for so long.


And it never is long enough, as USC found out in overtime. Long bull rushed into the Trojan backfield, sacking QB Carson Palmer for a 7-yard loss on second down, followed by a body-slam of back Justin Fargas, setting Troy back another 5 hashes. As a result, the Trojans had no choice but to attempt the 52-yard field goal which Killeen sailed wide right.


"Putting them out of field goal range was the clincher," Price commented.




It was Spaldings' red glare, bombs bursting through air or, on second thought, just another Pac-10 air show today on the Palouse.


Heisman candidate Gesser and Palmer combined for nearly 700 frequent flyer yards in what is shaping up to be one of the most prolific passing years in Pac-10 history.


Gesser totaled 315 yards, completing 23 of 44, two TD's and a pick. Palmer connected on 32 of 50 for 382 yards, two TD's and one interception.


Both interceptions proved costly. Jason David's second quarter pick of Palmer halted a nice Trojan drive in the endzone. Gesser's pass into the arms of Trojan DB Jason Leach set up USC's game-tying TD.


Gesser's longest passes of the day went to two unlikely targets: Speedy receiver Sammy Moore and TE Troy Bienemann. Moore's 53-yard snag set up the game-tying field goal. Bienemann came oh-so-close to six-points, barreling to the 1-yard line on a play that covered 36-yards. Three plays later, Devard Darling scored on a 2-yard pass from Gesser.




While WSU's famous receiving trio - - Darling, Mike Bush, and Jerome Riley - - were relatively quiet (by their high standards) combining on 13 catches for 141 yards and 2 TD's (oh, and 27 yards rushing), the other Cougar trio - - running backs Jermaine Green, Jonathan Smith, and John Tippins - - were major players in today's conquest of Troy.


The "running game by committee" amassed 219 yards total offense, highlighted by Green's work-of-art 75-yard run in the third quarter. Not only was Green's jaunt the big play of the day; it was also the most important. WSU had fumbled away the initial second half kickoff and four plays later Palmer hit pay dirt with Malaefou MacKenzie from 15-yards out. The TD gave SC a 14-10 lead and the momentum. But that lasted all of 45 game clock seconds, as Green took it all the way on the Cougar's first play from scrimmage.




Price became the first coach in Cougar history to beat the Trojans three times. He had been tied with legendary Washington State coach Babe Hollingbery (1930 and 1934) at two wins.


USC came into Pullman with the nation's number 1 defense, holding opponents to just 204 offensive yards per game. WSU had 216 yards going into half and finished with 516 yards. 201 of those hashes were courtesy of the Cougar running game. The Cougar defense held the Trojans to 72 ground yards.




Since we're declaring this victory the greatest Cougar game ever, we might as well label it the loudest ever, as well. But don't just take our ringing ears and sore throats for it.


"My ears are throbbing," Cougar D-line coach Robb Akey told after the game.




Johnny Bley was a two-way terror at tackle for Washington State in the 1930's and the captain of the Hollingbery coached squad that trounced the Trojans in 1934. We always think of Johnny, one of the all-time great Cougars, and his recollections of that glorious victory whenever WSU plays Southern Cal. Sadly, we did more so then ever today, as he passed away just this week. Somehow, we think Captain Bley had a hand in today's win…




The Cougs head down to The Farm to play Stanford next weekend. The Robber Barons were dismantled by the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame today, 31-7.






USC – McCullough 6-yard run (Killeen kick)

WSU – Dunning 48-yard FG

WSU – Bush 3-yard pass from Gesser (Dunning kick)








USC – MacKenzie 15-yard pass from Palmer (Killeen kick)

WSU – Green 75-yard run (Dunning kick)




WSU – Darling 2-yard pass from Gesser (Dunning kick)

USC – Palmer 3-yard run

USC – Williams 55-yard pass from Palmer (Killeen kick)

WSU – Dunning 35-yard FG




WSU – Dunning 35-yard FG



McCullough 13-62, Fargas 12-33, Palmer 7(-)-23


J. Smith 4-3, Tippins 12-79, Green 6-92, Gesser 4-1, Darling 1-8, Riley 1-19, Thompson 1(-)-1



Palmer 32-50-381-1
Gesser 23-44-315-1



Kelly 8-66, Williams 6-112, Colbert 4-60, MacKenzie 4-53, Pierson 4-47, Holmes 3-19, McCullough 2-12, Hancock 1-12

Riley 5-54, Darling 4-37, Bush 4-50, Lunde 1-6, Henderson 3-20, J. Smith 2-28, Green 1-17, Moore 1-53, Bienemann 2-50

Tackles (leaders only)


Grootegoed 9, Hill 8, Leach 6


Trufant 12, M. Davis  9, V. Williams  8, Genatone 8



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