October 5, 1997 in Sports

Washington State 24, Oregon 13 Cougs Pick Off Fifth Win Defense Steps Up Big Against Uo

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Through wind and rain, through deafening noise and even enemy spit, Washington State’s 15th-ranked football team remained undefeated Saturday with a 24-13 victory over Oregon in a raucous Autzen Stadium.

WSU entered the game with the top-ranked offense in the Pacific-10 Conference, but Oregon’s last-ranked defense was hardly in awe. At one point, Oregon strong safety Michael Fletcher went so far as to spit in the face of WSU receiver Shawn Tims.

“They did a lot of talking and were doing a lot of dirty stuff out there, but we overcame it,” Tims said.

What some had billed as a WAC-style shootout turned out to be a back-alley brawl. The Cougars needed a team effort to prevail, an effort that began on defense.

Junior tackle Gary Holmes led the way with one sack, one forced fumble, an interception and a blocked field goal. Senior end Dorian Boose added eight tackles, one sack, one pass deflection and a forced fumble.

“Oregon has a lot of weapons on offense,” Boose said, noting the Ducks’ performance in a 58-49 loss to Stanford last week. “We had a couple of mental breakdowns and that allowed them to get back into the game, but we kept our poise and that’s one thing that helped us until the end.”

WSU led 21-3 late in the third quarter, but Oregon pulled within 21-13 when receiver Tony Hartley got behind safety Ray Jackson to haul in a 31-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-22.

“It was a perfect throw,” Jackson said.

Oregon quarterback Akili Smith had been sacked by Boose and Holmes on the two previous plays, making his strike to Hartley all the more shocking.

“He’s more accurate than I thought he was, because they made him out to be more of a runner,” Boose said.

The Smith-to-Hartley connection came with 8:44 left in the game, whipping the crowd of 43,516 into a frenzy. Oregon had the momentum and WSU’s defense had been on the field for 16 of the last 20 plays.

“At that point, the offense had to come down, sustain a drive and put some points on the board,” offensive lineman Jason McEndoo said.

Enter senior receiver Chris Jackson, who put his 200-pound frame to use during a 12-play drive that put the game away. The drive, which lasted more than 5 minutes, culminated with Rian Lindell’s 28-yard field goal.

“When you get down to the end of a game like that and it’s pretty close, that’s just what the offense has to do,” McEndoo added.

Six plays into the drive, WSU faced third-and-7 from its own 37-yard-line. That’s when Jackson hauled in Ryan Leaf’s pass near the first-down marker, broke a tackle and charged upfield for 32 yards.

Two plays later, on second-and-6 from the 26, Jackson stretched a 12-yard completion into an 18-yarder by carrying two defenders inside the Oregon 10.

“I just put my head down and the yardage just kept coming,” said Jackson, who led WSU with six catches for 109 yards. “I’m not a receiver that goes down easily.”

Jackson’s late heroics allowed WSU to run the clock down to 3:33. When Lindell’s kick pushed the lead back into double digits, the Cougars could enjoy the moment.

“One thing about being 5-0, three of them were on the road and against some pretty tough opponents in USC and Oregon,” Leaf beamed.

Leaf completed 16 of 27 passes for 226 yards and one interception. His lone TD pass, a 12-yarder to Kevin McKenzie, made it 21-3.

Oregon, which generally rotates between Smith and Jason Maas at quarterback, stuck with Smith for most of the second half.

Maas completed just 4 of 14 passes for 56 yards and three firsthalf interceptions, hardly resembling the quarterback who threw for five scores against Stanford.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story:

Gimme a …

Before the game, you could call them the “ucks.” Because Oregon had no D.

Last in the Pacific-10 Conference in all four defensive categories, Oregon made some radical changes to try to slow down the Cougars - first in the league in total offense.

First, the Ducks shifted personnel. Peter Sirmon moved from outside linebacker to inside, Michael Fletcher from strong safety to outside linebacker, safety Brandon McLemore to middle linebacker and Justin Wilcox to strong safety. They opened the game with six DBs on the field.

Then the Ducks blitzed like crazy. “They lined up like they were supposed to, but they brought some linebackers and safeties from different positions,” said WSU quarterback Ryan Leaf.

It worked - mostly. The Cougars were limited to 351 yards and 24 points, their lowest totals of the year.

“We just couldn’t put it all together as a team today,” said Oregon coach Mike Bellotti. -John Blanchette

This sidebar appeared with the story: Gimme a … Before the game, you could call them the “ucks.” Because Oregon had no D. Last in the Pacific-10 Conference in all four defensive categories, Oregon made some radical changes to try to slow down the Cougars - first in the league in total offense. First, the Ducks shifted personnel. Peter Sirmon moved from outside linebacker to inside, Michael Fletcher from strong safety to outside linebacker, safety Brandon McLemore to middle linebacker and Justin Wilcox to strong safety. They opened the game with six DBs on the field. Then the Ducks blitzed like crazy. “They lined up like they were supposed to, but they brought some linebackers and safeties from different positions,” said WSU quarterback Ryan Leaf. It worked - mostly. The Cougars were limited to 351 yards and 24 points, their lowest totals of the year. “We just couldn’t put it all together as a team today,” said Oregon coach Mike Bellotti. -John Blanchette


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