Big plays highlight Husky win

PULLMAN - Marcel Reece's 69-yard catch and run for six, along with Chris Stevens' block and recovery of a Washington State punt highlighted a day of big plays and even bigger surprises as the Huskies upset WSU 35-32 in front of 35,117 at Martin Stadium in Pullman.

The 99th meeting between the two ended up being a veritable cavalcade of 'sudden change' plays. In fact it felt like the Huskies saved all theirs up until the final game of the season. There was an interception for a touchdown, a punt block for a touchdown, an 87-yard kickoff return and Washington's two-longest pass plays and longest rush of the year to go along with it. But Washington (5-7, 3-6) staved off a late Cougar rally with back-to-back sacks by Stevens and Caesar Rayford to clinch the win over Washington State (6-6, 4-5), who was trying to win three-straight over the Huskies for the first time in the history of the series.

The win also erased a six-game losing streak, including a loss to Stanford a week ago that is being considered one of the worst losses in the history of the program.

"Our kids just did a heckuva a job," Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham said after the game. "It was against all odds. Last week we were basically written off as dead. But our young men continued to battle and fight and played a great game tonight. When it got tight, they never lost their confidence, they never lost their will and kept battling and were fortunate to come away with the win."

"I'm really happy for the seniors," added Washington Offensive Coordinator Tim Lappano. "The last five or six weeks have been really tough."

The Huskies were out-passed (328-271) and out-possessed (31:46-28:14) when looking at the final stats, but they played a bend-but-don't break style that eliminated the big offensive plays and forced Washington State to earn nearly all their points with long drives. The Huskies also had to play the entire second half without one of their captains, cornerback Dashon Goldson (back spasms), and lost their other senior corner - Matt Fountaine - to a dislocated toe.

"We had to put Mesphin (Forrester) in there because Dashon (Goldson) and (Matt) Fountaine were both out," said Washington Defensive Coordinator Kent Baer. "We had to rework the secondary, which is hard when you still want to do some things in nickel and penny. And as many combo routes as Washington State runs, I'm just proud of the way our guys played."

WSU Head Coach Bill Doba played the part of riverboat gambler to perfection, as he went for two after a Cody Boyd touchdown and came up big when Alex Brink was able to connect with Brandon Gibson right at the goal line to bring the score to within three. But Louis Rankin broke off-tackle on Washington's very next play, going 77 yards untouched to put UW up 35-25.

"That was the most beautiful runs that I have seen," Willingham said of Rankin's burst. "He just stretched it out. It looked gorgeous."

The Huskies used another long-gainer by Reece to get inside WSU's side of the field, and then they worked on the clock with Rankin. But Washington quarterback Carl Bonnell was intercepted by Hussain Abdullah, and he would have had a big return if Rankin hadn't made a game-saving tackle.

Bonnell hung tough for Washington all day long, despite playing with a battery of injuries. The junior from Kent finished the day 14-27 for 271 yards and two long touchdowns. "He's still hurting," Willingham said of Bonnell. "He's been a warrior. I've praised our quarterbacks all year long because they have displayed a lot of courage in their play. It's not easy."

Reece was Bonnell's top target, catching three balls for 107 yards. "We talked a couple of weeks ago and he wanted to get in there and we told him that he had to step it up in practice," Lappano said of Reece. "He's really come on the last couple of weeks."

The Cougars weren't finished, as Brink hooked up with Gibson with a 33-yard pass in the Huskies' end zone to bring the score back to three, but that's as close as they would get. Washington punted the ball back to the Cougars for one last drive, but the Huskies' front pressure was too much for Brink to overcome.

"Anytime you have a veteran quarterback (Brink), you have a chance," Baer said. "But really, I think we've done a solid job all year long."

"I thought their defensive front did a nice job," Washington State Head Coach Bill Doba said. "I thought so going into the game. It was hard to run against them. Their kids did a nice job of beating our kids off the outside edge."

Both teams finished the day with seven tackles for loss, but it was Washington's five sacks that proved to be the difference in the end.

The first half had more of a feel of a heavyweight fight. When they weren't feeling each other out with jabs and shots to the body on the inside, they were scoring with huge punches landed in the form of big plays that kept the score knotted up at 14. Two of Washington's longest offensive plays of the year happened - Cody Ellis' 64-yard reset-shoetop catch on a slant and Marlon Wood's 87-yard kickoff return after WSU's Eric Frampton returned a Carl Bonnell pass 43 yards for a Cougar touchdown.

But it was Stevens' block and recovery of the end zone - the first time that has happened for the Huskies since the 1991 Rose Bowl - that appeared to be the real catalyst. "The punt block was as big as any," said Lappano. "We had given them an interception for a touchdown and now we were able to turn the tables a little bit and get a punt block for a touchdown. That was a huge play."

Wood's big play was followed by Louis Rankin cutting back and finding nothing but daylight from eight yards out. Washington State owned the first-half stat sheet, possessing the ball for over 17 minutes.


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