PULLMAN – As can happen all too often in football, the most electrifying moment Saturday at Martin Stadium in an instant turned into the most potentially tragic.
Oregon’s Kenjon Barner was headed upfield on a first-quarter kickoff return when he was hammered by Washington State defensive back Anthony Carpenter. The homecoming crowd of 24,768 summoned a deafening roar – Halston Higgins scooped up Barner’s fumble before stumbling down at the Oregon 6-yard line – but it was quickly hushed when Barner remained motionless on the turf.
Trainers sprinted to Barner’s side. Family members quickly descended from the stands to check on him, and were consoled by emotional teammates. Players from both teams kneeled. The ambulance was steered out of the tunnel and parked nearby.
But after 10 minutes, Barner was able to sit up and then stand on his own, to a relieved and respectful ovation. As a precaution, he was put on a stretcher and taken to Pullman Regional Hospital and was later pronounced stable. Just before game’s end, Barner’s father, Gary, returned to the Oregon sideline and reported, “He’s all right. He’s up and walking.”
And no one was more relieved than Carpenter.
“I just saw an opening, ran full speed and collided with him,” the freshman said. “I was aiming at his lead blocker (Josh Huff), and he moved out of the way. … First, the excitement of me actually hitting him pretty hard took over. Once I saw he was down and actually really hurt, it kind of set in. My intention is not to hurt a person.”
After two games in which WSU’s defense had been gashed for 722 yards on the ground, the Cougars made some moves.
C.J. Mizell made his first start at middle linebacker, replacing Mike Ledgerwood, who didn’t suit up (neck stinger). Former defensive end Sekope Kaufusi moved to linebacker and Carpenter moved to safety, filling a hole created by Chima Nwachukwu’s hamstring injury.
All are freshmen and all played a role in a defense, though still porous, that held third-ranked Oregon to 13 yards less than its total offense average.
Carpenter’s biggest play was on the special teams, but Mizell and Kaufusi had an impact on defense.
Mizell, from Tallahassee, Fla., led WSU with 12 tackles, nearly doubling his season total. Kaufusi, from Palo Alto, Calif., added four more. The two combined to force one of LaMichael James’ two fumbles, with Mizell getting a hand in and Kaufusi recovering it.
Replay hasn’t been kind to the Cougars lately.
On the fifth play of the game, coach Chip Kelly decided to go for a fourth-and-3 from Oregon’s 43. James took Darron Thomas’ handoff and headed around the left end. Cornerback Daniel Simmons cut him off, forcing James out of bounds at about the 45.
The WSU defense and sideline erupted. Co- defensive coordinator Chris Ball took off running down the sideline pumping his fist.
“I thought we had stopped them,” Ball said.
But James had held the ball ahead and head linesman Cleo Robinson marked it at the 46. The chains came out. It was a first down by an inch.
Paul Wulff challenged.
Referee Jack Wood announced the play stood. WSU lost a timeout and the ability to challenge.
The Cougars’ string of games without injuries ended, with right tackle Micah Hannam, who made his 43rd consecutive start and passed Mike Utley for most for a WSU offensive lineman since the Pac-10 was formed, suffering a concussion and missing the second half.
Defensive ends Casey Hamlett (head and gut), who was injured during Cliff Harris’ 67-yard punt return, and Adam Coerper (concussion), also failed to finish.