COUGAR NOTEBOOK: Alex's unlikely path

PULLMAN -- Perhaps the only thing more improbable than Washington State's rally from 17 points down -- twice! -- to beat Southern Methodist was the fact that Alex Hoffman-Ellis keyed the comeback. Actually, it's improbable that Hoffman-Ellis was anywhere near a football field in Pullman on Saturday, never mind starting at middle linebacker for the Cougars.

Alex Hoffman-Ellis, a Los Angeles native, never played football until his senior year of high school. He then played one year of junior college ball at Moorpark in suburban L.A. before redshirting at WSU last season.

Hoffman-Ellis may be raw, but he runs like the sprinter he was in high school and junior college track. No one touched him when he ran back an interception 52 yards with a minute left in the third quarter.

"You could feel that everybody believed we were still in it," Hoffman-Ellis said.

"His interception was very important," Myron Beck said. "It started a chain of good things."

Indeed, the Cougars trailed 24-7 when Hoffman-Ellis recorded the first interception and touchdown of his life. Beck added to the festivities a few minutes later when he scored on a 67-yard interception return, and Nico Grasu repeated his Apple Cup heroics by banging home the game-winning field goal in a 30-27 overtime win.

"I was going, ‘Gosh, please, just make this kick,'" Beck said. "And he's real clutch, so he kinda helped us out."

Yeah. Kinda.

"I was scared but confident," Beck said. "It was a good thing."

NO WAY: The Cougars could have won the game in regulation by scoring on a two-point conversion with 28 seconds left. However, coach Paul Wulff did not hesitate to send Grasu out to kick the extra point after Jared Karstetter's 7-yard touchdown catch.

"Coach (Steve) Broussard looked at me and said, ‘Are we going for two?' and I said, ‘No,' and that was it," Wulff said with a smile. "There was none (debating). We were going into overtime.

"I thought if we got to overtime, we had the momentum and we were going to win the ball game."

USC A HUGE FAVORITE: At the risk of slapping delirious Cougar fans back into reality mode, WSU plays five of the next six games on the road, starting Saturday with a nationally televised contest at 12th-ranked USC (7:15 p.m., FSN). Oddsmakers have installed the Trojans as 43-point favorites.

The Trojans handed WSU the worst loss in school history (69-0) last year in Pullman, although USC went to great lengths to hold the score down against the injury-riddled Cougars. The Trojans are coming off an upset loss at Washington, and USC tends to clobber the next opponent after losing.

"Washington State might want to call in sick Saturday," Derek Samson wrote on Sporting News magazine's website.

"We need to relax and go down to Southern California and just let it fly," Wulff said. "Play hard early and not be tense. Go play football.

"When we relax, we have a better shot. What is nice about this team is that they really want to do well. When we don't play well, a lot of times it's because they're too tight. That comes with (is due to) a little bit of youth and immaturity."

PRO SIGNINGS: Six former Cougars have gone to the "minor leagues" to play pro football. Wide receiver Michael Bumpus, who saw limited duty with the NFL's Seattle Seahawks last year, has signed with the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League, and five WSU products have gone to training camp in the new United Football League. Defensive end Mkristo Bruce and nose tackle Rien Long are with the Florida Tuskers. Defensive back Wale Dada has joined the Las Vegas Locos, running back Derrell Hutsona is trying his luck with the California Redwoods and offensive lineman Patrick Afif is in camp with the New York Sentinels.

MACKAY TO BENEFIT: Proceeds from the eighth annual WSU Throwers Car Wash will benefit injured Cougar football player Cory Mackay. Throwers on the Cougar men's and women's track teams have raised approximately $8,000 for charitable causes with the car washes. This year's event takes place next Sunday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Bank of America Parking lot at 425 East Main in downtown Pullman. The Chevron convenience store provides the water.

If you can't make it to the car wash, address checks to the Cory Mackay Fund and send them to Farwell at WSU Athletics, P.O. Box 641602, Pullman 99164-1602.

Speaking of Mackay, you'll be outraged when you read this: After hoisting the 12th man flag at Qwest Field before the WSU-Hawaii game, Cory was on the sidelines with his teammates when a Qwest Field staffer approached late in the first quarter to inform him that wheelchairs are not allowed on the turf.

UTLEY HONORED: Former WSU football star Mike Utley will receive the Ricky Sandoval Award at the 16th annual Detroit Lions Courage House Dinner on Oct. 13 at Ford Field in Detroit.

The award honors individuals who have made a difference in sports and the community. Utley has been heavily involved in research, rehab work and fund-raising for spinal-cord injuries since he was left paralyzed after being injured in a 1991 Lions game. To donate to the Mike Utley Foundation, go to

ELSEWHERE ON PLANET COUG ... Former Washington State baseball star Aaron Sele will be inducted into the Kitsap Sports Hall of Fame on Oct. 3. Sele, a first-team All-American at WSU in 1990, spent 15 years in the major leagues. Sele just completed his first season as a minor league pitching instructor for the Los Angeles Dodgers ... WSU sophomore wing Klay Thompson was named to the preseason Pac-10 first team by Lindy's College Basketball Preview ... Former WSU baseball stars Matt Way and Jim Murphy helped Lakewood (N.J.) win the South Atlantic League championship. Way, Philadelphia's fifth-round draft pick in June, went 4-1 with Class A Lakewood and also won a playoff game after starting the season with short-season Class A Williamsport (Pa.). Murphy, a first baseman in his second pro season, hit .279 with 27 doubles, 67 RBIs and a team-high 14 home runs ... Another former Cougar, Reggie Rivard, played on the Golden League champions of Calgary. Rivard, pitching primarily in middle relief, posted a 4-1 record for the Vipers ... The 11-0 WSU volleyball team opens Pac-10 play Friday at 12-3 Oregon State. How tough is Pac-10 volleyball? Well, the Cougars, Beavers and Arizona State are the only Pac-10 teams NOT ranked in the Top 25. WSU and Oregon State received votes in the latest poll.

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