PULLMAN – The nation’s 10th-ranked team did it the ugly way Saturday night – and that may even be an understatement considering everything that happened in a 60-minute window at Martin Stadium – but the Cougars will head into the 11th week of the college football season still with just one loss and the clear-cut leaders in the Pac-12 North.
On an off-night for WSU’s Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback, Gardner Minshew dialed up a late scoring drive for the Cougars, completing four passes before throwing a 10-yard touchdown to Easop Winston Jr. to lead the Cougars past a gritty California team, 19-13, in front of a sellout crowd in Pullman.
WSU, No. 10 in the Associated Press Top 25 and No. 8 in the College Football Playoff rankings improved to 8-1 and 5-1 in the Pac-12, with its fifth consecutive win and 12th straight at Martin Stadium. The Cougars go on the road for the final time this year next Saturday when they visit Colorado (5-4, 2-4) in Boulder. The Golden Bears dropped to 5-4 and 2-4, squandering an opportunity to claim their first postseason berth under second-year coach Justin Wilcox.
WSU and Minshew moved down the field at a brisk pace on the game’s opening drive, but the Cougars were stuffed three times when they got down to the 9-yard line and redshirt freshman kicker Blake Mazza was brought on for a 29-yard field goal that made it 3-0.
It didn’t get much better for the WSU quarterback after that – until the final drive of the fourth quarter, that is. Minshew finished 35-of-51 passing with 334 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Minshew’s interception came before his touchdown as Evan Weaver, the Spokane native and Gonzaga Prep grad, hauled in a tipped pass late in the first quarter – Weaver’s second pick in as many games after the Cal linebacker notched the first interception of his career last week against Washington.
The Golden Bears executed a slow, methodical drive to score their first points of the game and four minutes after Weaver’s interception, Cal quarterback Chase Garbers found fullback Malik McMorris wide open in the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown.
Cal’s lead held for all of four minutes before WSU responded with its first touchdown. Max Borghi set up his own touchdown, taking the first two carries of the drive 19 yards, and the freshman running back kept his legs churning on an 11-yard reception that put the Cougars on the 5-yard line. Borghi took it the rest of the way, pushing his way into the end zone for a rushing touchdown that made it 10-7.
Courtesy of two personal fouls on the Cougars – an out of bounds hit from safety Jalen Thompson and a targeting call on Rush linebacker Dominick Silvels – the Golden Bears were able to move into field goal range on their last offensive drive of the first half and Greg Thomas tied the game at 10-10 with a 42-yard kick.
Had it not been for Travell Harris’ kick-returning savvy, 10-10 could’ve been the score going into the half. The redshirt freshman receiver returned the kickoff 46 yards and a 28-yard pass from Minshew to Winston set up a 36-yard field goal from Mazza that give the Cougars a three-point lead at the break.
The Cougars could’ve extended their lead to 10 points early in the third quarter, but a bizarre sequence of events transpired when Willie Taylor III jumped a passing route to intercept Garbers near the right sideline. Taylor III returned the ball 37 yards to Cal’s 3-yard line, but lost control of it before he could cross the plane. Jahad Woods tried to pounce on the fumble as it dribbled into the end zone, but the ball rolled through the back of the end zone for a touchback.
Shortly after squandering the pick-six, WSU conceded a 35-yard pass from Brandon McIlwain to Moe Ways that set the Golden Bears up for a game-tying 46-yard field goal.
Mazza had an opportunity to put the Cougars up front in the fourth quarter, after Skyler Thomas intercepted McIlwain’s jump pass into the end zone, but the kicker’s first miss of the night went wide right, keeping the score at 13-13. – Theo Lawson
10:35 – WSU 3, Cal 0: A solid opening drive for Washington State sees the Cougars jump on the board first with a 29-yard field goal by Blake Mazza.
The Cougars started hot with James Williams picking up 34 yards over the first three plays to move WSU into Cal territory. From there, quarterback Gardner Minshew turned to receiver Dezmon Patmon to get the Cougs into the red zone.
However, the Cal defense tightened up and forced Minshew into check downs to keep the Cougs out of the end zone.
0:54 – WSU 3, Cal 0: Cougars quarterback Gardner Minshew has his pass deflected at the line and intercepted by Spokane native Evan Weaver.
Weaver, who had a pick-6 last week against Washington, almost intercepted Minshew’s check-down pass the previous play.
Also, it was the second time in the game Minshew has had a pass deflected by an interior lineman for the Golden Bears. Cal got a hand on one of Minshew’s passes during the opening drive.
11:00 – Cal 7, WSU 3: The Golden Bears capitalize on Evan Weaver’s interception with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Chase Garbers to Malik McMorris.
Cal converted a 4th-and-1 and a 3rd-and-1 during the 39-yard drive.
6:47 – WSU 10, Cal 7: The Cougars respond to Cal’s touchdown with one of their own as Max Borghi powers in from 5 yards out.
WSU running backs accounted for 56 yards (Borghi 35, James Williams 21) on the 75-yard drive as the Cougars seemed to stress ball control after the last drive ended in an interception.
0:36 – WSU 10, Cal 10: An eventful drive ends with a 42-yard field goal Greg Thomas and a tie game.
Washington State picked up two personal fouls on the drive and had a player ejected. Jalen Thompson picked up a late hit for shoving Cal quarterback Chase Garbers after he was out of bounds and, later in the drive, Dominick Silvels was ejected for targeting.
The penalties had the Golden Bears threatening at the WSU 20 before a chop block pushed Cal back 15 yards.
0:01 – WSU 13, Cal 10: A 46-yard kickoff return from Travell Harris gives the Cougars good field position after Cal ties the game.
WSU quickly gets into field goal range with a 28-yard Minshew to Easop Winston connection, leading to Mazza’s second field goal of the game – a 36-yard make to end the half.
Minshew ends the half with 202 yards passing and one interception. Borghi has 29 yards on the ground and one touchdown, while James Williams has 53 yards receiving to lead the Cougs.
2:04 – WSU 13, Cal 13: Greg Thomas connects on a 46-yard field goal and the Golden Bears have tied the game.
Cal went 51 yards in 7 plays after a bizarre play that nearly gave the Cougars a 10-point lead.
On 3rd and 3 from their own 38, Cal QB Chase Garbers was intercepted by Willie Taylor. Taylor, who jumped an out route, returned the ball 37 yards before Garbers forced a fumble with his tackle at the 1. The ball rolled into the end zone, a Coug attempted to jump on it but couldn’t get a grip and the ball squirted out the back of the end zone for a Cal touchback.
0:32 – WSU 19, Cal 13: The Cougars take the lead with just seconds remaining as Gardner Minshew finds Easop Winston open in the back corner of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown pass.
Minshew drove the Cougs 69 yards in 2:07 on five completions.
The Cougars will be wearing all crimson for tonight’s game.
The Golden Bears are going with white jerseys and pants with blue helmets.