Cougs, BYU, ESPN & Thursday? Sounds historic

IF THE PAST IS prologue, as the old saying goes, then you can write this down with a Sharpie: The Cougars are going to win a wild one against Brigham Young in their new, ESPN-driven Thursday evening showdown on August 30. Mike Leach, you see, will not be the first first-year Washington State head coach to play BYU in Provo on national television on a Thursday.

News today of the date switch for the Cougs' season opener reminds us of a similar, incredibly memorable circumstance nearly 25 years ago.

Back in 1989, in his inaugural campaign at the crimson helm, Mike Price brought the Cougs to Provo for a Sept. 7 ESPN Thursday nighter that turned into one of the great shootouts in college football that season.

WSU beat the favored and No. 24-ranked BYU Cougars, 46-41, in a game filled with one big play after another. The standout center on the team was Paul Wulff.

Cougar quarterback Brad Gossen, making his first-ever start following Timm Rosenbach's early departure for the NFL, connected with Tim Stallworth on a 66-yard TD pass in the opening series to set the tone. He later hooked up with Steve Broussard on a 64-yard scoring aerial. And followed that with a 41-yard pass play to Ron Young and a 45- yarder to tight end Rodd Olson set up two other TDs.

When they weren't scoring TDs, sophomore Jason Hanson was kicking field goals. He nailed four of them that night, including a record-breaking 58 yarder that BYU coach LaVell Edwards said he thought was "a joke" when he saw Hanson trotting on for the attempt.

But it was the Cougar defense that inflicted the ultimate dagger that night. WSU defensive back Jay Languein picked off an overthrown pass by future Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer and returned it 87 yards to the BYU 4, thus setting up what would prove to be the winning TD.

Languein was no stranger to heroics, by the way. His work with Shawn Landrum in the late going of the Apple Cup the season before is still talked about in crimson circles.

But get this. The "fireworks" in Provo didn't end with when the clock hit zero. In a post-game TV interview at midfield, a seagull relieved itself squarely on the top of Price's head.

"I'm sitting there thinking, `You know, we're 2-0, national TV, BYU, that's a pretty big deal," Price said afterward. "I was starting to think Mike Price is pretty darn sharp. Then, all of a sudden, a seagull flies by and drops a deposit right on my head. Talk about bringing me right back to earth ... I know LaVell trained one of those seagulls to do that," said Price. "And I'll bet those Mormons had something to do with it, too."

The seagull is the state bird of Utah and holds a revered place in Mormon history because it saved settlers from crop-eating locusts in the mid 1800s.

The Cougs, who had defeated Idaho a week earlier, won their next two games to go 4-0 before losing a one-point heartbreaker to USC with Gossen on the bench with a busted thumb and freshman Aaron Garcia filling in ably. The Cougs won another wild one the following week against Oregon in a game pitting two Top 25 teams, but Stallworth -- an All-American candidate -- blew his knee late and the Cougar offense struggled the rest of the season. They finished the year with a 6-5 record and no bowl invitation.

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