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Winning This Battle Fit WSU To A ‘D’

Sun., Jan. 1, 1995

Chad Eaton slipped in this last salvo before a cease-fire on Alamo analogies was declared Saturday night.

“We had to hold the fort,” he said. “Kind of fitting in the city of the Alamo.”

Well, yeah, only in the city of the Alamo the fort fell, to be nigglingly accurate. Still, Eaton at least grasped the spirit of the parallel - far better than, say, Baylor coach Chuck Reedy, who has a curious concept of gung-ho.

C’mon, would William Barret Travis have punted on fourth-and-1 at Santa Anna’s 43-yard line, down 10-3 with 5:16 to play?

We’ll let historians haggle over that. What cannot be disputed is the consistency in the narrative of Washington State’s 1994 football season preserved by the 10-3 escape in the second annual Builders Square Alamo Bowl.

Ten-three. Game-saving interception in the closing seconds - this one by a surprise guest, backup safety Todd Jensen, who was in the lineup on a hunch and a promise from assistant coach Craig Bray. Just eight first downs and 151 yards for somebody else’s record-setting offense.

For the sixth time in 12 games this season, the Cougars managed just 10 points or less.

For only the second of those times, however, they won.

And whose doing is that? Would you believe Chad Davis?

There wasn’t much on the scoreboard that would betray this notion, but on Saturday night Chad Davis had the most accurate rifle in this town since Davy Crockett sighted in Old Betsy.

The Alamo’s offensive player of the game completed 27 of 35 passes for 286 yards and no interceptions, though he was lucky on back-to-back downs in the first quarter. Sometimes luck is your best friend when your first consideration is - how do they put it at WSU? - securing the football.

But before he was lucky this night, Davis was good. Given new life when Baylor ran into punter George Martin four plays into the game, Davis marched the Cougars to their longest touchdown drive of the season - 91 yards, staking the defense to the only six points it would need.

Naturally, six wasn’t enough for Davis - and isn’t for any quarterback - but he has had to live with this burden before.

Indeed, it is why he finds himself wading into something of a quarterback controversy that isn’t of his making - and one he feels he shouldn’t be subjected to at all.

After all, he was the pitcher of record in all eight of Wazzu’s wins this season - and when has a rookie quarterback at Washington State ever been an eight-game winner?

“I think I played all right this season,” he said, “and I hope he (coach Mike Price) feels the same way. I think he does. He’s told me he does.

“And I am the quarterback here, period.”

Well, not so fast. In the wings is a big, rifle-armed kid named Ryan Leaf, who has played not so much as a down this season while redshirting - but who has made some noise about hitting the bricks if he’s not given a chance to compete for the job.

Davis can claim squatters’ rights all he wants and feel justified in doing so, but the fact is in 1990 Price shelved two proven and productive quarterbacks - Brad Gossen and Aaron Garcia - because he thought there was a better upside to the talents of one Drew Bledsoe.

He claimed at the time Wazzu’s problems weren’t Gossen’s fault - and what the Alamo underscored was that the problem that still dogs the Cougars is hardly Davis.

Quarterback controversy? What the Cougars have is a running back controversy.

Can’t anyone here gain a yard?

The Cougars finished the night with a net 7 yards on the ground, the eighth time this season they’ve been less than 100. Now, Davis lost 29 on sacks and Martin another 10 on a muffed punt, but the Cougars running backs - Derek Sparks, Kevin Hicks and Frank Madu - totaled 20, 12 and 5, respectively.

“We have to get the running game going,” said Davis. “If we do, we can be a great offense. Our passing game is there, our receivers are great, our protection has been great.

“You look at the Miamis and those successful teams that run the one-back and spread offenses and they can run the football. I think there were three guys in the Pac-10 that rushed for more yards than our entire running game. If you’re going to throw the ball, you’d better be able to run.”

But, again, the Cougars couldn’t run Saturday night. They won again because Davis was splendid, the defense snarly and because Baylor had a case of the bads.

A bad plan - their explosive freshman Jerod Douglas touched the ball all of four times in the first half. A bad decision - handed a break and the ball at the Cougars 29 in the second quarter, Reedy chose that moment to give backup quarterback Lamont Moore some work. A bad kicker - Jarvis Van Dyke cold-bladed two makeable field goals. And some bad luck - those missed interceptions and a couple of fumbles that bounced right back into WSU hands.

And, of course, the bad luck to have the Cougars defense on the field with the game on the line.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

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