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WSU tied at half but melts in second half


COUGARS

We have to be up and out of town early tomorrow, so the post on the link will be short. But it will be filled with a lot of interesting reading, so read on.

••••••••••

• We have our game story available on our website already, so go ahead and read it. But that’s not all. Here’s the unedited version of our notebook …

DALLAS – The last time Washington State University scored a special teams touchdown was in 2005, when Michael Bumpus returned a punt 87 yards for a score against Nevada.

Saturday the touchdown came from a much less heralded source.

Walk-on sophomore safety Kyle McCartney, who really is a special-teams mainstay, jumped on a muffed punt in the Southern Methodist end zone, pulling the Cougars into a tie at 14 in a game they would eventually lose, 35-21.

The Cougars faced a fourth-and-4 at their 40. Reid Forrest, who would average 47.9 yards on seven punts, lofted a high floater toward Darius Johnson.

Jamal Atofau, another special teams specialist, barreled down field. SMU defensive back Robert Mojica tried to block Atofau, but pushed him forward instead. And into Johnson, who fell as the ball hit him. It bounded toward the end zone, was batted forward and finally McCartney fell on it, protected by Daniel Blackledge.

“Just running down the field and you see the ball pop out, just keep running,” said McCartney, relating went was going through his head. “You just want to fall on it. The ball’s loose you’ve got to get on it.”

He did. Then he, and the Cougars, had to wait. A flag had been thrown for catch interference on Atofau. The officials huddled, decided the block caused the contact, and ruled it a touchdown. Another delay ensued as it was reviewed. Again a touchdown.

•••

Marquess Wilson is making an impression. The freshman wide receiver went over the 100-yard mark in receptions – he caught six for career-high 134 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown in the game’s final 140 seconds.

In three games, the 6-foot-1 Wilson has three catches of more than 40 yards. He has two games of more than 100 yards – the first WSU freshman to do that since Philip Bobo did it three times in 1990.

And he had a 44-yard reception in which he jumped over a defender taken away by a holding call.

He not only leads WSU in receiving yards, he also is leading in superlatives.

“He’s phenomenal in the field,” said fellow frosh Deone Bucannon. “His routes are so smooth.”

“We know, once we get him one-on-one with a guy, it’s a really, really good deal for us because he’s a special player,” said quarterback Jeff Tuel, who has helped Wilson amass 13 catches for 281 yards (a 21.6 yard average) thus far.

“Marquess is a player, it is absolutely unreal the plays that he makes,” said Kevin Kooyman.

Wilson, quiet and restrained, didn’t want to talk about himself. His feeling?

“Jeff did real well handling the pressure and getting the ball to us,” he said. “He was able to run around in the pocket and sling the ball around.”

•••

The heat, which reached the mid-90s, and the humidity, which was around 45 percent, took its toll on both teams. Though only the Cougars had to get used to it.

“It’s hot, humid,” Kooyman said. “It’s definitely not like Pullman. I would say the second half, it caught up with me a little bit.”

Kooyman credited the WSU training and strength staffs for preparing the Cougars for the conditions. No player suffered a cramp.

“It wasn’t as bad as I thought,” it would be, said defensive end Travis Long. “The humidity kind of cancelled out the heat because you were loose.”

The fans suffered as well, with a large contingent sitting in the shade of the south end scoreboard, moving to the east as the sun settled.

And the play might have been affected as well.

“We were a little sluggish,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said, “but I can’t say they weren’t either.”

The heat may have also been behind some confrontations between the teams, with the Cougars hit the hardest, with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on senior center Zack Williams killing a promising third-quarter drive.

Williams was replaced for one series by Chris Prummer.

“We had some flareups,” Wulff said. “We got stressed and we stressed ourselves a little bit. We didn’t respond and had a couple of mistakes that hurt us.”

•••

It was supposed to be a homecoming for Hallston Higgins and Chima Nwachukwu, two seniors from Texas. But only Higgins got to play, as Nwachukwu, the senior strong safety, sat with a neck injury.

Higgins played much of the game at inside linebacker – Wulff said due to the heat there were more frequent player rotations – and made just one tackle.

“I don’t feel like I showed who I was today,” said Higgins, whose parents draped a large banner of support near the 20-yard line. “I’m a little disappointed. But I’m hardly ever satisfied.”

He was, however, somewhat satisfied by the way the WSU defense played – except in the third quarter.

“We definitely did play better than we did last week, though we didn’t come away with the win,” he said.

“We just turned it down a little bit,” Higgins added about the fateful quarter. “If we could have gotten a score or a stop right off the bat we could have turned things up. But we let those opportunities go. But we turned it down a little bit and it definitely cost us.”

And what did Nwachukwu do? He listened in on the headsets and talked with the defensive players on the sidelines – especially Higgins.

“He helped a lot,” Higgins said.

•••

The win was SMU’s first over a Pac-10 school since 1974 when Oregon State came to Dallas. Washington State’s visit was also the first for a Pac-10 school since 1974. … Forrest moved into second place on WSU’s all-time punt yardage list with 9,653 yards. He trails only Kyle Basler, with 10,794 yards. … Jared Karstetter’s 4-yard touchdown reception was the first touchdown in the opening quarter since Dwight Tardy’s 18-yard run against Arizona on Nov. 8, 2008. … McCartney’s fumble recovery for a score was the first for WSU since the Apple Cup 2004. That was by Jason David. … SMU quarterback Kyle Padron’s four touchdown passes were a career-high. … The last time SMU defeated a BCS opponent was against Kansas on Sept. 2, 2000. … Zach Line, who finished with 83 yards on eight carries, had a career-long 36-yard run.

•••

• That’s all for now. We’ll be back in the morning. Until then …


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