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John Blanchette: Cougs didn’t crack while leaving Stanford in rearview mirror

A Washington State fan, left, gets extra exposure after Cougars wide receiver Renard Bell (81) scores a touchdown during the first half Saturday. November 4, 2017, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. WSU led 14-7 at the half. Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
A Washington State fan, left, gets extra exposure after Cougars wide receiver Renard Bell (81) scores a touchdown during the first half Saturday. November 4, 2017, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. WSU led 14-7 at the half. Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – Surely it’s taught in history classes at Washington State by now – that dark day back in 1970 when Stanford was rubbing the Cougs’ noses in it in Spokane and a good and loyal soldier named Terry Smith made the most resounding hit in school history.

By leaping out of the stands at Albi Stadium and drilling Stanford’s Eric Cross as he churned toward the end zone. Alas, it was bitter consolation in a seven-touchdown rout, especially since officials gave Cross the score.

But now 47 years later? Full payback.

True, more important things happened in and around Saturday’s snow flurries at Martin Stadium – a Senior Day flush with familial emotion, more records, another game-on-the-line drive to add mortar to a legacy and, of course, a 24-21 Wazzu victory that kept the Cougars still on the hunt in the Pac-12 North race, and not incidentally unbeaten at home for the first time since 2003.

But what won the internet on Saturday was a move that hung the moon.

Late in the second quarter, Wazzu freshman Renard Bell burned a post route through a lax Stanford secondary to make a leaping catch for a go-ahead touchdown. Witnesses soon arrived apace: Cardinal safeties Frank Buncom and Ben Edwards to rue their tardiness, back judge John Morton to affirm the score – and a shirtless Wazzu undergrad vaulting over the west grandstand railing and dropping trou to reveal his blue boxer-briefs to the already shamed Stanford defense.

A new moon rather than a full moon, but message received.

All the dads in a sellout of 32,952 surely enjoyed the moment, but not nearly as much the audience tuned into the Fox Business Network who saw the moment juxtaposed under a teaser for “Busted and Caught on Tape.”

The only one who didn’t get an eyeful was Bell.

“I just got in the locker room and one of my old teammates tagged me in a video with, ‘Yo, did you see this?’ ” he said. “Why didn’t I see it? He really pulled his pants down. Pretty funny.”

Like Terry Smith back in the age of Aquarius, the Calvin Klein Kid got hauled off by security. Unlike that day, these Cougars took care of business.

Not that it wasn’t risky business.

The Cardinal rallied from a 10-point deficit on a bizarre tuck-rule one-dribble touchdown run by quarterback K.J. Costello and a pick six that would have been a truly rotten way for Luke Falk to go out at Martin Stadium.

Instead, the senior quarterback went out in more Falkian fashion – a 94-yard drive that not only restored WSU’s lead, but also the Cougars’ confidence after last week’s stumble at Arizona. Jamire Calvin scored the deciding points, but it was Falk’s bullet to Tay Martin on 3-and-14 back near his goal line that “won them the game,” Stanford coach David Shaw insisted.

“We got after him,” Shaw said. “We hit him a bunch of times. The guy just keeps coming.”

It was the seventh fourth-quarter comeback Falk has engineered in his career, “probably more comeback drives than anyone in the history of the Pac-12,” posited WSU coach Mike Leach, who does pretty good PR for Falk when he’s not benching him.

Unofficial accounting notwithstanding, there was also something else.

“He played kind of with a chip on his shoulder,” Leach said, “and I thought it rubbed off on the rest of the offense.”

It wasn’t all about attitude. It was about Falk being more decisive – earlier reads, quicker deliveries – and steeling himself in the grasp of Stanford defenders. He even threw a few away, once drawing an intentional grounding flag that in itself was preferable hanging on to the ball too long.

This is the Falk that can get things done in the must-win scenario in which the Cougars find themselves.

And that goes, too, for the WSU defense, which was embarrassed and exposed a week ago in the desert. Other than a single 52-yard touchdown burst, it completely corralled Stanford’s Bryce Love, who was well enough to carry 16 times – and that means corralling the Cardinal. So the Cougs are now 2-1 in Heisman campaigns – breaking Love and USC’s Sam Darnold, boosting Arizona’s Khalil Tate.

Senior days are an odd animal at Wazzu. Every other year they fall on Apple Cup, fraught with so much other angst. This year, the weight of WSU’s aspirations – and a big, physical Top 25 opponent – complicated the mix, so there was some relief as well as joy when a standout like linebacker Frankie Luvu sealed the deal with a pick on his parents’ first trip to the states.

“This is a big win any way you slice it,” said Leach, who is normally loathe to attach any extra weight to a game played with games still ahead. “You saw what their players looked like and what our players looked like, so it’s like who’s spending the day moving mountains?”

Mountains? Who could see them with the moon in our eyes?


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