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A Grip on Sports: Haniger, Barriere and the Cougar defense all come through as Saturday lives up to its billing

Seattle Mariners' Mitch Haniger singles in a pair of runs against the Los Angeles Angels in the eighth inning of a baseball game Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in Seattle.   (Associated Press)
Seattle Mariners' Mitch Haniger singles in a pair of runs against the Los Angeles Angels in the eighth inning of a baseball game Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in Seattle.  (Associated Press)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • It was a crowded Saturday. It will be a memorable Sunday. We have thoughts on all of it. And we are not shy about sharing.

•••••••

• Even though we were being paid to watch something else, we found ourselves clicking back to the Mariners’ game Saturday night whenever we could. Luckily, we missed the top of the eighth, when the Angels rallied to take a 4-3 lead. We may not have had a TV left to use for work.

We did, however, get to watch the bottom of the inning. That’s when Mitch Haniger did what he’s done much of this season: come through with a big hit.

The soon-to-be-named Comeback Player of the Year led the M’s must-have comeback of October with a two-out, two-run single, keeping the team’s playoff hopes alive.

Today is going to be wild. In a good way.

But even a win in Game 162 won’t assure Seattle of anything. They have to hope either New York or Boston loses. Only that will assure some sort of play-in for the wild card play-in game.

No matter. This run down the stretch has been worth the price of admission. And today will be as well.

• The Pac-12 is scrambling for its playoff life after Stanford defeated third-ranked Oregon 31-24 in overtime. And it shouldn’t be. If there is anything new commissioner George Kliavkoff needs to fix, it is the injudicious officiating.

The defensive holding call that gave the Cardinal one un-timed down was ridiculous. Not just because both players, Oregon defensive back Mykael Wright and Stanford receiver John Humphreys, were equally guilty of contact – and they were, though watching replays it seemed obvious Humphreys actually did most of it – but because, in the parts of the game I watched, such hand-fighting was not being flagged. And to throw a flag as the game ended, to basically decide the outcome, that’s just ludicrous. And gives the conference another black eye. Yes, Oregon played poorly and quarterback Anthony Brown was not good. But even with that, one call gave Stanford a final chance.

The other major conference commissioners have to be laughing. That flag isn’t being thrown in the SEC or Big Ten or anywhere else. Maybe making the playoffs just means more in those places.

• For three quarters last night, Eric Barriere didn’t get a ton of help. The best player in FCS football was harassed, hurried and hit by Montana’s aggressive and physical defense. His receivers had trouble hanging on to some perfectly thrown passes. The offensive line struggled to communicate. Add it up and Eastern’s offense was sputtering.

Then it changed. Maybe the Griz got tired. Maybe adjustments were made. Maybe Barriere just got used to throwing through a sea of hands. Whatever, he and the Eagles flew up and down the field in the fourth quarter. There was nothing Montana could do, not even a nearly length-of-the-field kickoff return, to stem the tide.

But none of it would have mattered if the Eastern defense hadn’t played exceptionally all night. We like to say it’s the most important position group in FCS football because when it is plays well, the Eagles are unbeatable. They did last night and the Eagles were.

• Let’s give the Big Sky officials credit. They weren’t going to throw flags for holding, not on either side of the ball. And they stuck with it all night, other than one early outlier against Eastern. From then on, no matter how egregious the offensive linemen grabbed, no matter how often Montana’s defensive linemen wrapped up their Eagle counterparts to let a blitzer get free, there wasn’t going to be a flag. And that consistency held through the final play.

The players adjusted. And decided the game themselves.

•••

WSU: Speaking of great defense, and we were, Washington State played it for four quarters Saturday in Berkeley. It is the reason why the Cougars prevailed 21-6. Theo Lawson covered that aspect in this story while Colton Clark took care of the game story from Memorial Stadium. … Calvin Jackson Jr.’s second touchdown catch led SportsCenter’s top plays last night and led my TV Take. … His overall play led Colton’s difference makers. … Colton also had a story early Saturday about a couple of injured Cougs who ended up playing. … Remember when Cal and WSU used to play games in which both teams scored in the 60s? We do. No one else, outside Connor Halliday, probably does. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and college football, down is up. Jon Wilner examines the upside-down nature of the conference right now in his usual Saturday night Mercury News column. … Oregon State, thanks to a last-second field goal, topped Washington 27-24 in Corvallis. The Beavers are alone in first in the North. Which means the Cougars have a chance to play spoiler Saturday in Pullman. The Huskies? They have a million questions as the season rolls on. … Arizona State is in first in the South after its late-night 42-23 win in the Rose Bowl over UCLA. The Bruins did not score in the second half. … USC and Drake London still has never lost to Colorado after the Trojans’ 37-14 victory in Boulder. Could the Buffaloes wave the white flag after their bye week? … Utah should come off its bye knowing it is OK at backup quarterback. … In basketball news, Arizona held its intrasquad scrimmage and McKale was packed.

Gonzaga: Dominick Harris, the sophomore guard who is expected to contribute mightily this season, is in a boot. Jim Meehan has more on the injury, though there hasn’t been a lot revealed by the Zags.

EWU: If nothing else, Eastern’s 34-28 victory over fourth-ranked Montana was entertaining. The sixth-ranked Eagles, however, waited until near the end to make it that way for their fans. Dan Thompson was at Roos Field and has this game story. … Jim Meehan showed up at a football game and wrote about Barriere’s big second half. … Tyler Tjomsland was also there and presents this photo gallery. … We watched ESPN2 from home and put together a TV Take. … Around the Big Sky, Montana State dominated Northern Colorado 40-7, riding a tough defense and a resurgent passing game. … Northern Arizona blew out Idaho State 48-17 in Flagstaff. … Weber State left home and routed Cal Poly 38-7. … Portland State picked up a win over host Southern Utah, 20-13.

Idaho: The Vandals were in control entering the fourth quarter. Then undefeated UC Davis started clicking and raced to a 27-20 victory in Northern California.

Whitworth: The Pirates made a change at quarterback and it paid off big in their 35-17 win over Lewis & Clark at the Pine Bowl. Adam Chambers has the story of the undefeated Pirates’ Northwest Conference opener. … Our friend Dan Pelle was there as well and has this photo report. You have to love the gold leaves on the trees around Whitworth’s football field. It just screams autumn.  And college football season.

Preps: Dave Nichols keeps you up-to-date on Friday night’s football action with his column on the results. … The Battle for the 509 cross country invitational was held Saturday at the Fairways Golf Course. Keenan Gray was there and has this story.

Chiefs: The WHL season is underway. Thanks in large part to penalties, Spokane is 0-1. Dave was in the Arena for the 5-3 loss to Tri-City and has this coverage.

Mariners: Mitch Haniger everyone. That is all. The M’s 6-4 victory makes today the most important day in franchise history, post 2001-edition. … Seattle fans have turned out this weekend and they’ve seen the best baseball has to offer.

Seahawks: It’s also an important day for the Hawks as they travel to San Francisco to face the 49ers. The loser will be mired in the NFC West cellar. … The defense vows to be better.

Sounders: Seattle will be shorthanded when it faces Colorado tonight.

Kraken: The preseason tour of Washington for Seattle is over. The NHL opener is just around the corner. But playing a home game will have to wait a while.

Storm: There are a lot of roster questions that need to be answered before next season tips off.

•••       

• Yes, it was a busy day Saturday. This morning was as well. Now we can relax a bit and play the role of Seahawk fan complete with a San Francisco-centric meal. I voted for cioppino, the favorite soup of Italian fishermen back in the day. I lost the election, though I think the wards in the south part of the house were undercounted. Instead, we’re going with clam chowder and sourdough garlic bread. Sad. Until later …

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