SEATTLE – Had Washington State scheduled Baylor in 2005 instead of 2006, things might have turned out differently.
The fumble that Baylor returned for a touchdown and the lead with less than 6 minutes to play might have been the game-winner, the third-down conversions on the ensuing WSU drive might have fallen incomplete instead, and the chip-shot field goal in the final seconds might have clanked off of an upright.
None of that happened, and Loren Langley’s 17-yard field goal with 9 seconds on the clock gave the Cougars a 17-15 win and a 2-1 start heading into Pac-10 conference play.
“We finally finished,” head coach Bill Doba said. “We’ve been preaching all off-season and all spring and all preseason: finish. We made some plays when we had to.”
Although the Cougars did what was needed to escape Seattle’s Qwest Field with a victory, this was not the material for a how-to book on football.
Both WSU and Baylor (1-2) squandered numerous opportunities and bungled trick plays along the way, but for a while it appeared that a familiar error was going to be the difference in the contest.
Cougars wideout Michael Bumpus caught a pass and then had the ball jarred loose, only to watch Baylor cornerback Anthony Arline race 40 yards into the end zone to give Baylor a 15-14 lead.
In the Pac-10 opener last season, Bumpus coughed up a key fumble at Oregon State that helped spark a season-long slide.
“It’s lonely,” he said. “It’s like being a corner getting beat. You’re just sitting there watching the guy run in.
“I knew at least this time we were still in a position to win the game.”
That they did, getting the ball on their 18-yard line and going all the way to the Baylor goal line before stalling within inches of the end zone, leading to the Langley field goal.
On that final drive, the Cougars successfully completed first-down passes on two third downs to Brandon Gibson and then Bumpus caught a 25-yarder that moved the Cougars into the red zone.
Quarterback Alex Brink, who was playing so poorly in the first half that he was openly booed by the crowd and watched as Gary Rogers led a touchdown drive to raucous cheers as well, completed 12 of his last 13 passes to get WSU down the field for the needed score. Brink also caught a 4-yard TD pass from running back Dwight Tardy on a trick play in the third quarter.
“I’ve taken a lot of heat for not being able to win games late,” Brink said. “And to just have the opportunity to do it against a good ball club was something I was looking forward to.”
Leading up to the final drive, the Cougars defense was the unit responsible for keeping WSU close. Baylor scored just once off the WSU defense, as two Bears points came on a safety from a bad punt snap and six more on the Bumpus fumble. Had Baylor converted a two-point conversion after that touchdown, the Cougars would have needed a touchdown to win.
“I thought the defense played well enough for us to win this football game,” Baylor coach Guy Morriss said. “Then they went out and tried to win it for us by themselves. … We’re not good enough against a Pac-10 opponent to turn the ball over that much, that’s for sure.”
With defensive linemen Mkristo Bruce and Ropati Pitoitua having big games, the Bears managed just 246 yards on offense, and had 14 rushes for minus-10 yards.
WSU must now begin preparations for its conference slate, which will feature nine games for the first time – and all in the span of nine weeks.
“In past years, it just seemed like we surrendered at the end of games,” Bruce said. “To finish, it seems like we finally got that monkey off our back.”