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Freshman walk-on Ayden Hector sparks Washington State with two fumble recoveries, interception

Washington State Cougars defensive back Ayden Hector (36) recovers an Oregon fumble during the first half of a college football game on Saturday, November 14, 2020, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-RE)

Ayden Hector gave Washington State’s defense a spark in the first half of Saturday’s game against No. 11 Oregon.

Then he gave the Cougars a second spark, and a third spark.

The freshman walk-on and former four-star recruit had a hand in all three of WSU’s first-half turnovers, recovering two fumbles and intercepting Oregon quarterback Tyler Shough, helping the Cougars secure a 19-14 halftime lead at Martin Stadium.

Late in the first quarter, WSU defensive tackle Ahmir Crowder wrestled the ball out of Travis Dye’s arms and Hector recovered on the 47-yard line, setting up the Cougars’ second touchdown of the game – a 4-yard pass from Jayden de Laura to Renard Bell.

The Ducks had run just three plays on their next offensive drive when Hector stepped in front of Shough’s pass, picked the ball out of the air and returned it to the 40-yard line. The Cougars couldn’t capitalize there, but they were able to get three points out of the next turnover.

As Shough handed off to CJ Verdell on a run-pass option play, miscommunication between the quarterback and running back led to the ball spilling out, and Hector dove on the loose object, securing WSU’s third turnover of the half. “Edge” Brennan Jackson was credited with the forced fumble. The Cougars were unable to put seven points on the board on the ensuing drive, but they extended the lead to 19-7 on Blake Mazza’a 39-yard field goal.

Hector, who was the third highest-rated recruit in the state of Washington last year and initially signed with Stanford despite offers from Alabama, Penn State, USC, Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon and a host of others, started for the Cougars at strong safety in the season opener with Tyrese Ross and Chad Davis Jr. missing and tied for the team lead with seven tackles.