PULLMAN – For the first time this year the Washington State depth was really tested. And the grade for the replacements was passing, but not “A” work in the Cougars’ 30-27 overtime loss to Utah at Martin Stadium.
Though receiver Marquess Wilson and safety Deone Bucannon, two starters who missed almost every down of practice this week, both played Saturday, only Wilson was a major contributor, with eight catches for 83 yards and a touchdown.
Bucannon, who rolled his ankle at Monday’s practice, was used sparingly and finished with two tackles.
Right tackle Dan Spitz couldn’t go after spraining his right ankle this week, replaced by redshirt freshman Jake Rodgers, from Shadle Park High.
“I was able to do my job most of the time,” Rodgers said. “I know I made a few mistakes, but I felt overall I played pretty well.”
“I damn proud of what he did, thought he competed his butt off,” offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy said. “I talked to the kids before the game and said this time of the year you’re going to have those type of injuries.”
Linebacker Chester Su’a made his third start and, though he led WSU with 11 tackles, his one big miss cost seven points, as his failure to wrapup John White in the backfield ended up jump-starting a 56-yard scoring run.
“Chester did some great things for a first-year player,” coach Paul Wulff said. “But there was that one, and sometimes all it takes, one slipup and it costs you a touchdown. And that was one for Chester.”
Cornerback Daniel Simmons (ankle) did not suit up, forcing Damante Horton and Nolan Washington, who were matched up one-on-one with the Utes’ wideouts much of the game, to play every down.
“I like it better to play a full game because you can get in a rhythm,” said Washington, adding the other nine Cougars were focused on the run. “We had to be very savvy out there. We had no help, so we had to cover double moves and I thought we did very good doing that.”
The Cougars second leading receiver, Isiah Barton, went down with a knee sprain at the end of the first quarter and his 49 catches were missed.
Late in the third quarter, with walk-on Bennett Bontemps in Barton’s slot position, the Cougars called a go-route for Wilson. And Wilson was open.
But Bontemps ran the wrong way, according to Sturdy, and brought the safety into the play. Instead of a sure six – Wilson was 2 yards behind the man covering him – the ball was batted down incomplete.
“That was something we had set up and we knew it was going to be there,” Sturdy said. “It was missed opportunity.”
Seniors have their day
On Senior Day, most of the seniors stood out.
Jared Karstetter had the fifth 100-yard day of his career and his 18th-career touchdown catch, third-best all-time for WSU, tied with three others and trailing only Hugh Campbell (22) and Jason Hill (32).
Alex Hoffman-Ellis had eight tackles, two of them for loss, and broke up a pass. Mike Ledgerwood started at middle linebacker and posted four tackles.
Dan Wagner had his best punting game of the season despite the snowy conditions, booting seven for a 40.9-yard average, putting five inside the 20 and booming a 52-yarder.
Offensive linemen B.J. Guerra and David Gonzales, who played every down, and Andrew Roxas, who played a couple series, helped power an offense that gained 399 yards.
But, with the loss, they all realized their time at Washington State would end without a bowl game.
“It’s tough knowing that’s our last time in Martin Stadium as players,” said Hoffman-Ellis, speaking for his class. “We’re going to remember this game … for the rest of our lives. And just knowing it didn’t all come together at the end, that’s going to hurt for a while.
“We’ve come such a long way from when I first got here … to get to where we are now. It was an obstacle-filled process. For that reason, the improvement is all that more rewarding.”
Wulff harps on winning the turnover battle means winning the game. His mantra proved true Saturday.
The Cougars, with four interceptions and a muffed punt, had five turnovers. Only the muffed punt led to points – White’s 3-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter – but the last interception came in WSU’s overtime possession.
The Utes, whose offense had not turned the ball over in a three-game winning streak entering Saturday’s game, gave the ball to John White 42 times and he dropped it twice, though the Cougars only got three points out of it.
“Five turnovers,” Wulff said. “Pretty tough to beat a good team, or a bowl team, which I guess they are, and do that. That was the biggest factor that cost us the game.”
Snow fell heavily on Martin Stadium overnight but it was hard to tell by kickoff.
Some 70 people, led by Craig Culbertson and Mike Reisenauer, and including 27 prisoners from Airway Heights, labored all morning to clear the field and the aisles.
The group, which started clearing the aisles at 5:45 in the morning, used 40 bags of solid de-icer and 150 gallons of the liquid kind to assure access to the snow-covered seats. But the concourse on the south side, which doubles as the roof of WSU’s IT building, has to be cleared by hand as de-icer can’t be used.
The field itself takes two hours to clear and looked good until about halftime. That’s when the snow began to fall with a vengeance, forcing part of the field crew to clear the yard lines in 5-yard increments.
As the workers raced across the field with their snow shovels during breaks in play, the lines sometimes veered off-center, leaving an odd pattern on the field.
Out with the old
It won’t be the same Martin Stadium when Washington State takes the field Sept. 8 against Eastern Washington next year. The bowl and the field will remain, but the Cougars will have an up-to $80 million building on the south side, replacing the 40-year-old press box with a new facility that includes suites, club seating, loge boxes and premium amenities.
Though the WSU Regents approved athletic director Bill Moos’ plan Friday, the Cougars held a pregame press conference to introduce it.
“I felt when I first took got hired,” Moos said at the event in Bohler Gym, “if we did not invest in facilities at this juncture, we’re going to be left in the dust.”