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Cougars Catch Their I-Aa Limit

Sun., Sept. 10, 1995

Just a reminder, possibly unnecessary: football is not fishing.

So what Washington State hooked on Saturday, the Cougars are not obliged to throw back no matter how puny it may look in the creel. Everything’s a keeper.

However, this also precludes fibbing it up to trophy proportions.

Tweeeet! Flag. Tortured metaphor. Fifteen yards.

So you can say a good many things about the 38-21 hurt the Cougars put on Montana, but maybe not many good things. Most accurately, you can say that it shouldn’t have been that close and that it was damn near too close, and that cleansing future schedules of these Division I-AA appointments is probably for WSU’s own good no matter how the record reads these past 30 years.

Otherwise, one of these seasons that weathered nothing-to-gain hypothesis is bound to become no-win reality.

But this one last time, it was just another food-chain exercise - a walking shadow, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound (in this case, Montana’s many fans making Ryan Leaf the most booed backup quarterback in college football) and fury (the lick WSU’s Phillip Glover laid on poor Scott Spraggins) signifying nothing.

Flag. Misappropriation of MacBeth. Ten yards.

How much nothing?

Well, as our lead man on the scene here reasoned the other day, lose this game and the Cougars would still need a six-victory season to make it to a bowl game. By winning, Wazzu must now roll a seven. It’s tricky logic, but flawless.

On the other hand, only twice in 20 years have the Cougars had so much trouble with Big Sky Conference guests - against Montana three years ago and Montana State in 1981. Both times, the Cougs spent the holidays at bowl games.

Flag. Misleading implication. Five yards and loss of down.

Of course, one man’s meaningless is another man’s motivation.

“Last year, being last in the Pac-10 in rushing and sacks (allowed), we just wanted to prove that we’re not as terrible as everybody thinks we are,” said guard Jason McEndoo. “This game, I think, showed how much pride we had.”

Just how that can be measured is a mystery. But the numbers did reveal that for the first time since last year’s Tennessee game, the Cougars had a back run for more than 100 yards - and that for the first time since the Cal game in 1993 (18 starts ago), the offense topped 200 yards rushing and 500 total.

Flag. No qualifier. Repeat down.

OK, OK 200 and 500 against a Big Sky team.

One-double-A games are destined to go down just this way. Should the Cougars backslide into the offensive doldrums that have dogged them since - well, since that Cal game - any analysis will come with the cavil, “Aside from the Montana game…” or “Not counting the win over Montana…” It’s the nature of the beast.

The Cougars themselves, admirably, were unanimous in their regard for Montana. “Montana can play,” said linebacker Chris Hayes.

“Gave us all we wanted,” said McEndoo.

“They’re a quality opponent,” insisted quarterback Chad Davis.

Still, McEndoo couldn’t contain a chuckle when he talked about WSU’s success running sweeps and said, “That let me get out on the corner - and I like blocking those little 135-pound guys.”

Flag. Taunting. Or what passes for it on a football field these days. Fifteen yards.

But then, that’s the problem, isn’t it? The notion that the Cougars should have brutalized these 135-pound guys. The physical inequities were quite accurately laid out by UM quarterback Dave Dickenson before the game as he intimated that the Grizzlies would have to be perfect to have a chance.

After 60 minutes, however, he seemed a bit more defiant.

“In my heart and mind, that was not a 17-point loss,” he said. “On this day, we could have beat them. The way the game materialized, we had a chance to win.”

At least until a dubious pass-interference flag wiped out a touchdown that would have brought the Grizzlies within three points in the fourth quarter.

Not only is it better to be lucky than good, it is better still to play someone who is unlucky.

Flag. Just for the heck of it. Five yards.

Not that the Cougs are Breaks, Inc. Montana’s first touchdown came on a drive that was 33 yards of Grizzlies offense and 30 yards of Wazzu penalties. By quarter’s end, Cougars transgressions had outgained UM’s offense 72-66. Eventually, it got better, but not a lot, and the Cougars are now on a 1,400-yard penalty pace.

“We’re not as far along as we’d like to be on some of the discipline things,” admitted coach Mike Price, “and we just don’t play with that reckless abandon and enthusiasm that we had last year.”

Perhaps that recklessness will return when it’s Wazzu that becomes the team with nothing to lose.

Flag. That’s fishing. Football isn’t fishing. Replay the down.

OK, then this:

“This game gave us a chance to get on a roll and hopefully we can continue it,” said McEndoo. “We just want something to build on.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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

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