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Sports >  WSU football

Loss to Oregon will ‘sting for a while,’ but Washington State encouraged by potential

Sept. 25, 2022 Updated Mon., Sept. 26, 2022 at 4:05 p.m.

PULLMAN – Saturday’s showdown between Washington State and Oregon had all the high-drama thrills of a Pac-12 classic.

The Cougars and Ducks traded highlights during an electrifying conference opener at Gesa Field. The visitors from Oregon rallied back from a 12-point deficit in the final six minutes to claim a wild 44-41 victory in front of a sold-out crowd and a national Fox television audience.

“It’ll sting for a while,” Cougars coach Jake Dickert said. “Sometimes, those scars are good for young people, so you don’t go out and make that mistake the next time we get in that situation.”

WSU has much to improve after surrendering more than 600 yards and falling flat late. The heartbreaking finish will leave behind a sour taste, but the result doesn’t signal a downward trajectory for the Cougars, who led the 15th-ranked team in the country from early in the first quarter until the final 1:21 of the game, making a strong impression on a national stage.

“It’s encouraging, because we know we can play against anybody,” linebacker Travion Brown said. “That’s arguably one of the best teams in the Pac-12. They’re obviously ranked and it was a good game. We just gotta come out and make sure to do our jobs, and hopefully we’ll see them again.”

WSU (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) received 31 votes in the latest AP Top 25 poll, released Sunday morning. Despite the loss, the Cougars moved up one spot in the rankings, to the fourth position in the “receiving votes” category. Oregon (3-1, 1-0) jumped two spots, to No. 13. WSU will look to regroup next weekend on homecoming against Cal. The Cougars opened as 4-point favorites.

“I tell (the team), ‘Trust the process,’ ” Dickert said. “We’re not going to waver, not going to change our demeanor. We’re not going to panic. We’re going to keep believing in each other.”

The Cougars’ Air Raid passing game found a rhythm and their normally strong defense showed cracks in its passing coverage, but Saturday’s game featured plenty of twists and turns and “what-if” moments for both teams. WSU and Oregon dialed up a few tricks and the two offenses produced several must-see plays, giving the 33,058 in attendance a show.

“I thought our fans did a great job,” Dickert said. “I’m just so appreciative of them spending their hard-earned money to come out here and support this team. That means a lot to those guys. … Coug fans everywhere, if they weren’t here, I know they were yelling at their TV somewhere in America.”

Pac-12 acknowledges error

Before Oregon’s late eruption – the Ducks scored 22 points in the final three minutes on two explosive possessions and a game-clinching pick-6, with a clutch 2-point conversion for good measure – the Cougars captured the momentum with an entertaining series midway through the fourth quarter. The drive featured heroics from quarterback Cameron Ward and a couple of costly personal fouls on Oregon – a roughing the passer call on a third-and-18 and a questionable targeting penalty on Duck edge rusher DJ Johnson on a first-and-10 from the Ducks’ 28-yard line.

The targeting call wasn’t the only oddity relating to officiating. Ward was penalized for intentional grounding on a first down during a second-quarter drive. The “down indicator on the far side of the field changed immediately (too quickly),” according to a release Sunday from the Pac-12, which acknowledged the officiating error. “When the Referee announced the loss of down penalty, the down indicator then changed to 3rd down (incorrectly).”

Second down was skipped. The Cougs ran the ball on third-and-long, then punted. The referees gathered after the punt and decided to give WSU an extra third-and-long play, much to the surprise of those watching.

“The Instant Replay Official, in conjunction with the Command Center, stopped the game to review the down situation after the punt and before Oregon snapped the ball for a new series,” per the Pac-12 release. “With video evidence of the down box indicator changing incorrectly, the officials ruled that 3rd down should be replayed at the previous spot.”

WSU settled for another inside running play. The officiating gaffe disrupted the Cougs’ flow and resulted in a viral response on social media. The Pac-12 is “reviewing the incident and the Pac-12 Vice President of Officiating will determine if any discipline is warranted. The officiating protocols were followed properly and this is an instance of human error.”

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