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Hard to find the pony

A GRIP ON SPORTS

If we were smart, we would ignore what went on in Tempe yesterday, choosing to focus instead on the positive happenstances of Saturday. But, honestly, smart is not my middle name. Read on.

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• I've traveled to Tempe a couple times over the past few years, but there was one thing I never saw in my time there: a Washington State football team score a touchdown. So when Kristoff Williams weaved his way through the Arizona State reserves on a 54-yard scoring pass-and-catch late in the Cougars' 46-7 beatdown in the desert, I smiled ever so slightly. It was something positive in a negative day. (A day that would turn much more negative for the Pac-12, but that's for later.) The Cougars had broken a nearly three-game scoreless streak in Sun Devil Stadium (in those three games, ASU had outscored Washington State 119-0). As positives go, that's pretty much bottom-of-the-barrel, but you take them where you can find them. And, with a short week prior to the Apple Cup on Black Friday, it was probably much needed. This is a team that's bleeding hope right now, a team that's takes a step back every time it takes one forward. And a program that very nearly took a step back to 2008 yesterday. Think about it. If ASU hadn't taken its foot off the throttle (the Sun Devils led 46-0 with 18 minutes left), the Cougars were in great danger of being handed its worst defeat since a 58-0 crushing at Stanford's hands in Paul Wulff's first year. Since then, WSU has lost by 48 (to Oklahoma State in 2009), 42 (to ASU in 2010) and by 43 (a couple of weeks ago to Utah). If Kristoff Williams hadn't found the end zone, the loss would have been as bad as any since that awful 2008 season. But if there is any omen worth clinging too for Cougar fans, that 2008 season was capped by the 16-13, double-overtime home win over the Huskies, a win greeted with as much emotion of any in the past nine seasons. That win also culminated a stretch of four wins in five years against UW, quite possibly the best stretch in the rivalry Washington State has ever experienced. Since then, the Huskies have won three consecutive times.

• If you listened to the postgame show last night, you might have picked up on something Jeff Tuel said concerning next year. The senior quarterback, who is asking for the NCAA to grant him a fifth year of eligibility based on a series of injuries last season, told Bud Nameck he would "have a decision to make" if the NCAA granted the year. I presume Tuel will graduate in the spring (he's a good student), so he may be contemplating heading off to the real world even if the NCAA says he can stay and play. Hadn't thought of that before.

•••

• Washington State: If you don't like seeing dejected young men, do not watch Christian Caple's videos of the postgame interviews following the loss. From Deone Bucannon to Jeff Tuel, from Elliott Bosch to Connor Halliday, the Cougars look sick while answering questions. So too did coach Mike Leach. ... Christian also has usual game-day items, including a pregame live chat, a postgame tale of the tape, a morning-after post, a story, notebook, scoring, keys to the game and statistics. ... Kansas State gets boat-raced in Waco and then Oregon can't get a field goal through the uprights and loses to Stanford in overtime. Not a good day for top-ranked teams.

• Gonzaga: The Zags will be at home today, hosting South Dakota in a 1 p.m. contest at the Kennel. The women will also be at home, hosting Monmouth starting at 6 p.m. Jim Meehan has an advance of the men's game. ... USD lost to Tulsa in its tournament. ... BYU had a lost weekend in Brooklyn.

• EWU: The Eagles are Big Sky co-champions (with Cal Poly and Montana State) and winners of the conference's automatic playoff berth following their tighter-than-hoped win at Portland State. Jim Allen was in rainy Portland and filed this game story. EWU will learn its playoff fate this morning. ... Montana State earned its share of the BSC title with a win over rival Montana. ... Cal Poly went into Flagstaff and came home with a share of the crown. ... It's been a tough year at Weber State, despite Saturday's win over Idaho State.

• Idaho: It was a busy Saturday in Moscow, with the Vandal football team letting a chance for a win over Texas-San Antonio slip away (Josh Wright has the story) and the basketball team doing the same thing against Montana (Josh also has that story). But that's not all. Not only does Josh have a blog post on the basketball game, he also has one on the football game and on a report WSU linebackers coach Jeff Choate (a St. Maries native who was head coach at Post Falls High and an assistant at Boise State) will interview for the UI head coaching gig. Choate was quite adamant earlier this year the Vandals need to be in the Big Sky, so if he is the running it may mean that's the direction UI has decided to go. ... Utah State dominated the first half, saw Louisiana Tech (pictured) roar back after halftime but prevailed in overtime to win at least a share of the final WAC football title. ... San Jose State handed BYU another loss, probably pushing past the Cougars in any bowl pecking order.

• Whitworth: The Pirates opened the 2012 season the same way they opened the 1978 season: with a loss. That was also the last time the Pirates have lost at home to kickoff a year. That time it was Gonzaga. This time it was defending Division III national champion St. Thomas University that turned the trick. Steve Christilaw has the story.

• Chiefs: It was Todd Fiddler 3, Seattle 1 last night in Seattle. The Chiefs left winger's hat trick lifted Spokane to victory. ... Portland began another winning streak. ... Tri-City upended Kelowna 3-2 for the second consecutive night.

• Preps: It was not a great day for the Inland Northwest prep contingent, though University moved into the 3A football semifinals with a big home win over North Thurston (pictured) and Northwest Christian won the state 1B/2B boys' soccer title with a 4-0 win over St. George's. ... Mt. Spokane came up short in its attempt for a 3A soccer title. ... In 4A football, Gonzaga Prep lost to Bellarmine Prep 32-29 on a last-second field goal. Greg Lee has the story. ... Mead fell to Auburn, 21-7. ... Lind-Ritzville/Sprague defeated DeSales in 2B play. Chris Derrick has the coverage. Reardan fell in the other local quarterfinal. John Blanchette has the story.

• Seahawks: Is the NFC West there for the Hawks to take?

• Sounders: A week after being blasted 3-0 by Los Angeles, the Sounders finally get their chance to try for revenge, and to move on in the MLS playoffs. The teams meet this evening in Seattle.

•••

• No Seahawks today (it's their bye week), so the NFL report this morning is nearly non-existent. That's OK. There was enough football to go around yesterday. ... By the way, the headline refers to a story Ronald Reagan used to like to tell. It was about a little boy who, upon entering a room full of horse manure, started to dig around. When asked why, the boy said "there has to be a pony in here somewhere." Sometimes finding the pony isn't easy. Until later ...




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Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for spokesman.com. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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