PULLMAN – Washington State erased a 10-0 first-quarter deficit and overcame three fumbles to squeak out a 24-17 win over longtime rival Idaho in the 92nd edition of the Battle of the Palouse Saturday night at Martin Stadium.
Making his first start for the Cougars, transfer quarterback Cameron Ward completed 25 of 40 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns. Junior running back Nakia Watson had the first 100-yard rushing game of his career, totaling 117 yards on 18 carries.
Nevada linebacker transfer Daiyon Henley spearheaded an impressive effort from WSU’s defensive front, which finished with seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss. Henley recorded a team-high eight tackles, had three tackles for loss and sealed the win with an interception inside the final 15 seconds.
The Cougars own a 73-16-3 all-time record against Idaho in the rivalry series that’s been played regularly since 1894.
The Cougars (1-0) now prepare for their biggest nonconference test, traveling to play No. 18 Wisconsin on Saturday in Madison .
The Vandals (0-1) also have a trip to Big Ten country on tap Saturday, playing Indiana in Bloomington .
WSU didn’t take the lead until midway through the third quarter when Ward led the Cougars on an eight-play, 58-yard drive capped with a 13-yard touchdown pass to De’Zhaun Stribling, who was left open in the back-right corner of the end zone.
The Cougars gave themselves a cushion early in the fourth quarter, making it a 24-10 lead on Ward’s 10-yard touchdown pass to running back Jaylen Jenkins.
The Vandals closed the deficit to seven points less than 5 minutes later when redshirt freshman quarterback Gevani McCoy hit Jordan Dwyer for a 23-yard touchdown. McCoy set up the scoring play with a 35-yard toss to Jermaine Jackson on fourth-and-8 from Idaho’s 27-yard line.
After entering as 28-point favorites, the Cougars sealed a seven-point victory despite Dean Janikowski’s missed 22-yard field goal with 54 seconds remaining.
McCoy completed four passes, moving Idaho’s offense to the 28-yard line before his final attempt was attempted by Henley.
With first-year coaches patrolling both sidelines, it was Jason Eck’s Vandals who took an early lead on Jake Dickert’s Cougars, forcing two WSU fumbles inside the game’s first 4 minutes.
Idaho couldn’t capitalize on the first – a Jenkins fumble – but cornerback Marcus Harris scooped up Donovan Ollie’s fumble on the next possession, returning it 45 yards for a Vandal touchdown.
Idaho extended its lead to 10-0 on Ricardo Chavez’s 27-yard field goal. McCoy sparked the Vandals’ drive with a 42-yard pass to junior receiver Jackson.
Eck didn’t publicly announce his starting quarterback prior to Saturday’s game, but McCoy got all but one snap behind center in the opener, completing 21 of 32 passes for 212 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Jackson led Idaho’s receivers with five receptions for 110 yards.
Former Washington State linebacker Fa’avae Fa’avae had 11 tackles for the Vandals and forced a fumble.
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