Cougars thinking bowl game for first time since 2003

2013-11-17T00:00:00Z 2013-11-17T00:08:37Z Cougars thinking bowl game for first time since 2003By Zack Rosenblatt Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Play the next play.

The words were plastered across Marcus Mason’s T-shirt, in all caps.

“That’s our motto,” said receiver Dom Williams. “You gotta play another one, and give it all you got.”

Good play or bad, move on.

But what about bad games? Or seasons?

Washington State was coming off three straight losses — by a combined 96 points — when it entered Arizona Stadium on Saturday.

In a five-year span from 2008 until last year, the Cougars were 12-49.

But on Saturday, they beat Arizona 24-17.

“I’ve been here for three years now,” said linebacker Darryl Monroe, “and ever since I got here, I felt like everyone was just against us. Everybody laughed at us, nobody ever believed us. Nobody ever gave us a chance.”

But now, the Cougars (5-5) own their best record since 2007. In Mike Leach’s second year at the helm, they are on the cusp of a bowl berth for the first time since 2003 if they can win one more game.

Leach is better known for his peculiarities — he’ll often, un-prompted, launch into diatribes about swords, pirates and the Native American warrior Geronimo — and for his offense.

His “Air Raid” is pass first, pass again, pass one more time, and then ask questions later.

Against Oregon in October, quarterback Connor Halliday attempted 89 passes.

On Saturday, he completed 39 of 53 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner in the fourth quarter. It tied him with Drew Bledsoe for fifth all-time in WSU history.

But it certainly helped that, for the first time since Wazzu beat California by 22 on Oct. 5, Halliday barely played from behind.

The Cougars only trailed for about eight minutes against the UA — in the previous 18 quarters, they only led for 10 minutes, and that came from a brief 3-0 lead in the first quarter against Oregon State, a game they lost 52-24.

“You know, it always feels good to play defense like you know how to,” said safety Deone Buchanon.

In their last five games, Wazzu played what Leach called a “murderers’ row.” During that span, the Cougars:

— Lost to Arizona State 55-21

— Lost to then-No.2 Oregon 62-38

— Lost to Oregon State 52-24

— Beat Cal 44-22

— Lost to then-No. 5 Stanford 55-17

“We played murderers’ row there for a period of time in a concentrated fashion in a way I don’t believe anyone else has, but we came through it,” Leach said. “The defense has been doing some good things — they never lost their focus and came out and played well today.”

The Cougars held Ka’Deem Carey to 42 second-half rushing yards, after he had 90 in the first half.

They forced a B.J. Denker fumble in the second quarter, and kept Arizona’s quarterback from leading the Wildcats into the end zone on a two-minute drill to seal it.

Arizona worked its way from its own 25 to Wazzu’s 19 with relative ease, and then Denker ran on a 2-yard scramble, toward the sideline. Monroe tackled him inbounds, keeping the clock running.

Denker rushed to the line for one last play as time expired.

His pass intended for Samajie Grant was incomplete.

“He just threw the ball up in the air,” said Mason, a running back, “and once I saw the ball settle, all of sudden the whole sideline let out and we just started storming.”

It was as if the Cougars had just won a bowl game.

With one more win — against either Utah or Washington in the next two weeks — they can actually do so.

“We’ve been through the wringer, and we understand what that entails,” Halliday said. “What this team wanted to do is start something new at Washington State, and that’s what we’ve done.”

Contact reporter Zack Rosenblatt at zrosenblatt@azstarnet.com or 573-4145. On Twitter @ZackBlatt.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Pac-12 South football standings

Team W L T PCT
Arizona 5 1 0 0.833
Utah 5 1 0 0.833
USC 5 2 0 0.714
ASU 5 1 0 0.833
UCLA 5 2 0 0.714
Colorado 3 4 0 0.429

Pac-12 North football standings

Team W L T PCT
Oregon 6 1 0 0.857
Oregon State 4 2 0 0.667
Stanford 4 3 0 0.571
Washington 5 2 0 0.714
Cal 4 3 0 0.571
Washington State 2 5 0 0.286
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