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Cougar defense helps ring up a victory

PULLMAN – Logan Mayes calls him “our bell cow.”

But when Washington State linebacker Travis Long was sidelined by injury, it was Mayes’ time to answer the bell in the Apple Cup.

“I just went out there and tried to make him proud,” said Mayes, who helped the Cougar defense dominate the Huskies in the fourth quarter.

Mayes, the son of legendary WSU running back Rueben Mayes, got the start at buck linebacker after Long suffered a knee injury last week at Arizona State. After starting a school-record 47 games, Long was on crutches for his last game as a Cougar.

“It was definitely big shoes to fill,” Mayes said. “He’s a guy we rely on to make big plays.”

But for most of the Apple Cup, the Husky defense made the big plays, including three turnovers that put the Cougar defense on its heels before it stepped on the field. Washington built a 28-10 lead late in the third quarter largely on drives of 11, 16 and 7 yards – no chance for the Cougar defense to bend, much less break.

But breaking down? That was out of the question, Mayes said after the Cougars completed the biggest comeback in Apple Cup history.

“We’ve had some games where we threw in the towel and gave up, but this time we didn’t give up and battled back. The mentality changed; eventually they gave up and we didn’t.”

While the Huskies wouldn’t agree with that characterization – “We just didn’t do a good job in the fourth quarter,” running back Bishop Sankey said – they did struggle offensively in the fourth quarter; UW went three-and-out in two of its last three possessions.

The Cougar defense forced the issue early, holding the Huskies to 95 yards in the first half – the first time since UNLV in 2011 that they’ve held any opponent under 100 yards total offense for a half.

The Huskies finished with 269 yards total offense, well below their season average of 355.

“They were bringing pressure almost half the game,” UW quarterback Keith Price said. “They did a good job switching it up.”

The pressure bottled up the running game – the Huskies were held to 75 yards rushing for the game – while putting the game on Price’s shoulders. Price completed 20 of 34 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns, but no pass went for more than 24 yards, and he was sacked twice.

Holding the Huskies to 5-for-15 on third-down conversions didn’t hurt either.

UW head coach Steve Sarkisian said the Husky offensive line play “wasn’t as physical as we’d like to be, not firing off the ball the way we’d like to.” But Sarkisian credited the Cougars with good “internal penetration, and some secondary pressure.”

Mayes said the defensive game plan was to keep pressure on Price. “We did that a lot and that was a big part of the game. When our defense gets pressure on the quarterback, we tend to win the game.”

The game was still in the balance, tied at 28 as Price drove the Huskies 60 yards in the final 3 minutes. But on third-and-1 at the 15, the Cougars didn’t budge on Washington’s attempt to draw them offsides.

A missed Husky field goal later, the Cougars were back on defense in overtime. On the first play of the period, Price was going through his progressions.

“I was checking off to Bishop Sankey,” Price said. As he looked downfield, Mayes rushed in and forced a bad throw that lineman Kalafitoni Pole intercepted and almost ran back for a game-winning touchdown.

Mayes recalled the play, the X’s, the O’s and the cheers that followed. “We ran a game that’s called ‘quick jet,’ where the tackle goes up the field and gets contain on the end, loops inside the to ‘A’ gap,” Mayes said.

“Suddenly it all just opened up for me.”

Much like the opportunity to answer the bell.