Cougs’ Horton picks off first Pac-12 honor
Interceptions in upset of USC earn senior defensive award
PULLMAN – Senior cornerback Damante Horton isn’t much for talking about himself, or a whole lot else, really. So his anointment Monday as Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week will have to speak for him.
Horton’s two interceptions in WSU’s 10-7 upset of Southern California – one returned 70 yards for a touchdown, the other late in the game to give the Cougars the ball and a chance to eventually run out the clock – landed him the honor for the first time in his career.
The announcement didn’t come from the Pac-12 until after Horton had already addressed the media on Monday. But Horton, soft-spoken and humble as usual, credited defensive coordinator Mike Breske for his performance.
“It was a lot (to do) with the play calling. The defensive coordinator called great calls and put me in the right positions,” Horton said.
His interceptions were similar, Horton said. He had been instructed to sit on shorter routes, because it became obvious that USC was unwilling – or unable – to throw the ball deep. So Horton was in the right place at the right time with less than a minute remaining in the first half, when Cody Kessler threw well behind his receiver and right to Horton.
He caught it and ran 70 yards for a touchdown without being touched.
“From the call, I was just sitting on any short routes, so as soon as I saw the ball, I just went for it,” Horton said.
The second interception was of a pass thrown by backup quarterback Max Wittek on a slant route with fewer than three minutes remaining in the game. WSU had just taken the lead thanks to a 41-yard field goal by Andrew Furney, and Horton was still sitting on those short routes.
And, just like the first one, “as soon as I saw the ball, I just went for it,” Horton said.
WSU coach Mike Leach credits Horton’s strong start to his willingness to relax a little. Leach described Horton as a “perfectionist,” which is a quality that hindered him at times last season.
“Some of that would slow him down,” Leach said. “But now he’s relaxed and let himself play. He understands that once in a while there’s going to be a mistake, but just let it fly and play as hard as you can, and I think it’s really paid off for him.”
Ioane Gauta is a big dude, but the 6-foot-3, 285-pounder used to stand out on the field in another way: by his long, unmistakable hair.
But Gauta is playing with a shorter cut this season for a couple of reasons.
First of all, WSU linebacker Cyrus Coen goofed a bit when he was cutting Gauta’s hair last season, and the two concluded that it might be best just to hack it all off.
That, plus a phone call from Gauta’s father prior to last season’s Apple Cup, convinced him to shorten it.
“I wanted to start a new legacy with this new hair,” Gauta said. “I knew it was a big game, Apple Cup game, and my dad called me up and said, ‘I want to see my last name on your jersey.’ And that pretty much hit me like, all right, so I really got to cut this hair now. So when I cut it, my dad was proud; we were proud after that win. So everything happens for a reason.”
Gauta, who usually plays nose tackle, said he played on the outside against USC while junior Toni Pole moved to the nose. Breske praised the defensive front for its consistent push despite often rushing only three guys.
WSU will play another 7:30 p.m. game next week, on Sept. 21, against Idaho at Martin Stadium. The game will air on the Pac-12 Networks.