PULLMAN – Washington State doubled up on the weekly Pac-12 Conference honors.
Cougars defensive tackle Hercules Mata’afa was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Week and kicker Erik Powell was named Special Teams Player of the Week after WSU beat Utah 33-25 Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.
Mata’afa had the most disruptive game of his stalwart junior season, recording three sacks – all of which came in the first half – five tackles-for-loss and a team-high eight tackles. The five TFLs match the most by a WSU player in single-game history and the eight tackles were a career-high.
The Lahaina, Hawaii, native leads the Pac-12 in both TFLs (21.5) and sacks (9.5). His TFL total is currently second-most in WSU single-season history and ranks fourth nationally.
“He’s a beast, man,” linebacker Justus Rogers. “He’s always in the backfield, he just finds a way. That’s a motto for our defense, really.”
Mata’afa also had a hand in one of the seven turnovers forced by WSU, coming up with a strip sack on Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley to give the Cougars the ball on the Utes 19-yard line. The Cougars head into their bye week tied for the national lead in turnovers (27). Wyoming and Central Michigan both have 27.
“Beast, I don’t even know how to explain it,” safety Robert Taylor said of Mata’afa. “He does it every week. I’m happy we have him, he makes this defense a whole lot better. We feel off that, man, and he did his thing tonight. We appreciate him.”
The Cougars were equally thankful for Powell’s left toe.
The senior kicker made four of his five field goal attempts, connecting from 44, 32, 28 and 33 yards. Powell has made four kicks twice this season and upped his season total to 19, which is tied for fifth-most in the FBS this season and in WSU single-season history.
With three PATs, Powell was responsible for 15 of the 33 WSU points. The Vancouver, Washington, native is 19-of-23 on field goals this year and has accounted for 99 points. That puts him 19th nationally and sixth in the Pac-12.
Powell’s accurate senior season comes after a rocky junior year that saw him go 9-of-15.
“(Eric) Mele has really helped with keeping every kick the same,” Powell said. “So when we’re on the sideline or in practice – in practice it’s a game kick every time. Then once we go to the sidelines during the game, it’s the same routine and everything like that.”
Powell upped his career field goal total to 50, which is third-most in school history. It’s the third time this season he’s been the Special Teams Player of the Week. Powell won it after WSU’s games against USC and Oregon earlier this season. It’s the first time since 2015, when Luke Falk won a trio of Pac-12 awards, that a Cougar player has been honored three times in the same season.