PASADENA, Calif. – Leads have been few for the Washington State University Cougars recently.
When you’ve won four games in the last two-plus football seasons, lost 11 consecutive Pac-10 Conference games and went about a year without scoring a first-quarter touchdown, it’s understandable.
But something different happened Saturday afternoon before 62,072 in the Rose Bowl, though it wasn’t the outcome. UCLA scored 14 fourth-quarter points and held off WSU, 42-28 to drop WSU’s record to 1-4, 0-2 in Pac-10 play.
No, what was different was the Cougars led in the second half, once by eight points, and, with 14 minutes and 8 seconds left to play, by six on Jeff Tuel’s 1-yard bootleg run.
Then they didn’t.
After attempting, and missing, an extra point after Tuel’s run, the Cougars headed to the sidelines. Referee Larry Farina followed, where he put on his headset and talked with the replay booth. About a minute later the headset came off and Farina addressed the crowd, which was waiting for the kickoff.
The touchdown had been reviewed. Tuel’s knee was down 2-feet from the end zone. Third-and-goal from there.
“All they said was the guy in the booth pushed the button as the (extra-point) ball was being snapped,” Wulff said, though there was no stoppage of play.
But it seemed to stop WSU’s momentum.
“Adversity is something this ballclub is pretty used to,” professed Tuel, who had his second 300-yard passing game in his 11-game WSU career. “We didn’t put our heads down and say ‘oh crap.’ We were actually positive, (saying) ‘Hey, we could make the extra point this time.’ “
They never got that opportunity.
Tuel rolled left, was pressured and had to throw quickly, sailing it over Jared Karstetter’s head. On fourth down, he gave the ball to James Montgomery, who had already bulled his way into the end zone twice, and the senior tried the right side. Corner Aaron Hester avoided a block, forced Montgomery inside and, with help, wrapped him up about 6 inches short.
“That was the game right there,” said center Zack Williams. “That would have (made) a statement if we would have gotten in there.”
“It’s going to haunt me,” said Montgomery of being stopped short.
No lead, no ball and, in about 2 minutes, no chance.
“We had the ball on the 1-foot line,” said WSU coach Paul Wulff of his decision to disdain a go-ahead field-goal attempt. “Worst case scenario, if we didn’t get it, they had to go 99 yards.”
The worst-case scenario came true. UCLA’s big back, 6-foot, 231-pound Derrick Coleman popped free off left tackle on a third-and-1 from the 10 and rumbled 73 yards – a career-long by 29 yards – before Nolan Washington to chase him down.
“We sent the house on that and once he got past the first level, there was nobody there,” said Myron Beck, who had been instrumental in getting WSU it’s biggest lead at 28-20, scooping up a Johnathan Franklin fumble, running 21 yards to the UCLA 20 early in the third quarter and setting up Montgomery’s second touchdown.
After Coleman went to the bench for some oxygen, Franklin gashed a tired WSU defense three times, getting the ball to the 1. From there, quarterback Richard Brehaut, making his first collegiate start in place of Kevin Prince, injured in UCLA’s upset of Texas, faked the ball to Franklin and walked around left end for the go-ahead score.
“That’s tough to swallow,” said safety Tyree Toomer of the drive. “It was all on the defense, that’s what you live for. And we let them score – twice.”
Trailing 35-28, Tuel brought the Cougars back, hitting Jeffrey Solomon down the middle – “They were trying to take away the outside, that’s why we had so many big plays over the middle,” Solomon said – for 23 yards the play before Montgomery broke free for another 16. But the drive stalled on the UCLA 28 and freshman Andrew Furney, trying his first college field goal, missed well left from 46 yards.
With the ball back, the Bruins (3-2, 1-1) went 72 yards on eight plays, all runs from either Franklin or Coleman, took 4:21 off the clock and clinched it with Coleman’s 4-yard run.
Franklin (a career-high 216 yards on 30 carries) and Coleman (a career-high 185 on 15) powered the UCLA running game to 437 yards and five touchdowns. It was the most rushing yards the Cougars have yielded in Wulff’s tenure.
With UCLA averaging 7.8 yards per rush attempt, it dominated time of possession on a hot, humid day.
“They were tired,” Wulff said of the defense. “I think they were on the field 50 snaps in the first half. It’s a lot, but somewhere along the way they have to get a three-and-out.”
That only happened once in the first half and WSU trailed 14-0 early in the second quarter. But Tuel finally got the Cougar offense going – they had 11 plays in the first quarter – by finding Karstetter deep for 37 yards to the UCLA 9. Two plays later he hit Solomon on a post-corner to cut the lead in half.
Two Kai Forbath field goals raised the lead to 20-7 with 1:51 left in the half, but once again WSU answered. It took 10 plays but just 1:38 to score, with Daniel Blackledge catching Tuel’s 18-yard strike.
WSU opened the second half with a 68-yard scoring drive, 50 of them covered by a Tuel-to-Marquess Wilson bomb that Wilson gathered in between corner Sheldon Price and safety Tony Dye. The freshman finished with 118 yards on five catches, his third 100-yard-plus game of the season. Montgomery’s 3-yard run put WSU up 21-20.
When Franklin fumbled, Beck recovered and Montgomery scored, the lead was eight. And then the wheels wobbled off.
“Nobody is going to give you anything and you have to earn everything you get,” offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy said. “We had a chance to earn a win today.”
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