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Sports >  WSU football

With bowl berth in sight, ‘focused and determined’ Washington State entertains Arizona on senior night

Nov. 18, 2021 Updated Thu., Nov. 18, 2021 at 10:15 p.m.

By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

PULLMAN – For Washington State, this week has been about finding a balance between reflecting on the past, while keeping focused on the task at hand.

The Cougars wanted to devote enough time to properly recognize 14 players, an influential group of seniors who will be celebrated before WSU kicks off against Arizona at 6 p.m. Friday on Gesa Field.

At the same time, WSU can’t let itself get wrapped up in emotions. With two games remaining, the Cougs “still got a lot to be playing for,” interim coach Jake Dickert said.

“This is a team that wants to go to a bowl game,” he continued. “Instead of being nostalgic, I think guys are focused and determined. We’ll pick and choose the right moments to reminisce on what these guys have accomplished.”

With a win, WSU (5-5, 4-3 Pac-12) would earn a bowl bid for the sixth consecutive season – excluding the four-game campaign last year.

Dickert, who’s made clear that he’s “interviewing” for the permanent head-coaching job with every game, would augment his resume.

And the Cougars would provide a proper Pullman send-off for an outgoing senior class that has been important both to this program’s sustained success over the past few years, and how it persevered through last month’s coaching shakeup.

“What these guys have been able to do, and overcome and build, they set the standard for everyone else that’s coming behind them,” Dickert said. “That’s a really powerful thing.”

In their way is conference also-ran Arizona (1-9, 1-6), which has been mostly competitive this season but seems to have a knack for tight losses.

The Wildcats gave challenges to Oregon, BYU, Washington, USC and Utah this season. But all they have to show for their work is a 10-3 victory over a Cal team that was decimated by coronavirus-related absences.

“They play hard – it’s that simple,” senior WSU safety George Hicks III said. “When things don’t go their way … they make their adjustments on the sideline and they come back out firing like nothing happened.”

The Cougs enter as two-touchdown favorites after playing back-to-back games as two-score underdogs.

They’re coming off a 38-24 defeat at third-ranked Oregon. WSU stayed at the Ducks’ heels into the fourth quarter, but couldn’t overcome UO’s powerful run game (306 yards) and pressure-packed defense.

“That’s the bar. They are the bar right now,” Dickert said of Oregon. “We just have a gap we need to make up to get to that point. … We gotta be able to stop the run, and I’ve gotta do a better job of getting our guys in position this week.”

UA’s defense is fond of the blitz, and Dickert wouldn’t be shocked if the Wildcat offense dials up a handful of trick plays to counter WSU’s disguised looks up front. The visitors have been prone to turnovers, though, while the Cougs are among the nation’s elite in forcing takeaways.

“They’re a solid team. They’re a sound program. They’re going to give everything they have – they have nothing to lose,” running back Max Borghi said of UA. “We gotta go into this week with a full head of steam and leave these seniors all off on the right foot.

“It hasn’t really sunk in,” Borghi added of playing for the final time on the Palouse. “I think it’ll sink in after the game, and obviously we gotta go out on a good note.”

WSU will honor key players such as tailbacks Borghi and Deon McIntosh; stellar slots Travell Harris and Calvin Jackson Jr.; sixth-year linebackers Jahad Woods and Justus Rogers; 40-game starters at tackle in Abraham Lucas and Liam Ryan; and Daniel Isom and Hicks, both first-string defensive backs.

“They’ve meant a lot,” Hicks said of this class, mentioning several of the aforementioned players specifically. “Those guys have been big-time over the last three or four years and have essentially led teams.”

Dickert said earlier this week the seniors would have an opportunity to address the team and impart veteran knowledge. Borghi, a true freshman in 2018, recalled advice he’d received four years ago and the impact left by those players he looked up to – another important class headlined by leaders like Gardner Minshew, Andre Dillard, Peyton Pelluer, Hunter Dale and Kyle Sweet.

Borghi hopes to “continue the tradition.”

“It’s something we owe to them,” he said.

“They really helped rally the young guys, and it obviously showed and it helped build this program for years to come. We remain getting bowl eligible. Hopefully, we do it again this year.”

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