PULLMAN — Kyle Williams tuned out the rest of Gesa Field, the happiest place on the Palouse on Friday night, and stared directly at Travis Hunter. Washington State’s star wide receiver and Colorado’s two-way star had been going at it all night. Talking trash all game.
So Williams could only punctuate his touchdown reception, which he caught over Hunter to balloon WSU’s lead in its 56-14 win, one way: By holding up his wrist.
Williams was mocking Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders and his signature celebration, but the good news for the Cougars was they had several chances to do so in this win, which snapped their six-game losing streak and gave them an opportunity of a lifetime: Win next week’s Apple Cup and become bowl-eligible.
WSU had ample opportunities to soak in this win, and the Cougs capitalized on each one. Edge rusher Brennan Jackson, who recorded two scoops-and-scores, hit the celebration. So did receiver Lincoln Victor, who took a handoff and raced into the end zone, and so did edge RJ Stone Jr., who recorded two of his team’s five sacks on the night.
Washington State, which won its first game since Sept. 23 with this victory, could hardly do any wrong. Quarterback Cam Ward, who exited in the third quarter, completed 18 of 30 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns — plus 27 rushing yards and two more scores on the ground. Running back Nakia Watson looked rejuvenated and healthy, and he showed it by logging 47 rushing yards, his most all season.
The Cougs’ offense, a shaky outfit for almost all season, looked ironclad. Ward didn’t just avoid turning it over. He looked like the Ward who emerged as a darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate for the first four weeks of the season. He unfurled perfect deep balls to receiver Josh Kelly, who reeled in six catches for 130 yards, and he checked into perfect play calls, like the quick-strike pass to Watson, who bolted into the end zone for a score in the second frame, pushing WSU’s lead to 28-7.
Even Washington State’s special teams unit, which had played 10 uneventful games to this point, erupted. In the first stanza, sophomore wideout Leyton Smithson fielded a kickoff at the 2, saw a crease, burst through it and surged upfield, waltzing into the end zone for the Cougs’ first kickoff return for a touchdown since 2018.
Whatever happened to the Washington State team that opened up with four straight wins, capturing the attention of the country and prying open the doors to a power conference, it returned to action on Friday night.
Perhaps most encouraging for the Cougs: That version of their defense resurfaced, too. Washington State recorded three takeaways: Jackson’s two fumble recoveries — the first forced by Stone’s strip-sack — and in the third quarter, linebacker Taariq Al-Uqdah picked off a pass.
Except he didn’t just pick off a pass. Here’s how it went: Colorado’s third-string, walk-on QB Gavin Kuld, replacing the injured Sanders, unloaded a throw. WSU edge Raam Stevenson jumped and tipped it. Kuld caught it. He looked to pass again, so he did, which is when Al-Uqdah leaped in front of the ball and snared it.
Good luck finding much fault in the Cougs’ effort on defense. That interception capped WSU’s string of eight-straight stops. That span included five three-and-outs. Colorado did rattle off one highlight, a touchdown bomb from Sanders to Hunter in the first quarter — but otherwise, the Buffaloes won’t have much fun reviewing the film from this one.
If there was ever a player who made sure of that, it was Jackson, who registered his third scoop-and-score on the season in this win. The second, which covered a whole 74 yards, went like this: Kuld ran the option and tried to pitch it to running back Dylan Edwards, but the ball fell to the turf, where Jackson grabbed it. He took off in the opposite direction, and no Buffalo dared track him down.
There may have been no better swan song at Gesa Field than the one Jackson authored. He has already entered the top-10 all-time leaderboard in WSU’s sacks department. He has cemented himself as not only a fan favorite — but one of the program’s best players ever. To go out this way was poetic.
For Washington State to play its final Pac-12 game at this venue was, too. The Cougs still don’t know which conference they’ll be playing in next year and beyond. That much is out of the coaches’ and players’ hands. Bowl eligibility still is, though, and for the next week, that is all that matters in Pullman.
15:00 – WSU 0, CU 0: Washington State wins the coin toss and defers to the second half. Buffaloes will receive the opening kick.
13:13 – WSU 0, CU 0: Stone sacks Sanders on third down – his first sack since the second game of the season – and the Cougars defense forces a three-and-out. WSU takes over on its own 35.
Stone flashed his wrist to the Cougars sideline, mimicking a celebration Sanders has used this season.
8:57 – WSU 7, CU 0: Victor takes a handoff for a 15-yard touchdown to cap an easy Cougars scoring drive.
Senior wideout handles the carries and turns it into one of the teams’ most effective rushing plays of the year. Victor follows Stone’s lead and copies Sanders’ watch celebration, some good vibes for the Cougs on senior night.
Ward led the drive. He opens 4 of 4 for 45 yards.
5:14 – WSU 14, CU 0: It really might be the seniors’ night.
Stone gets to Sanders for a second sack. He knocks the ball out and it takes a perfect bounce up to Jackson, who scoops it for a 40-yard touchdown.
Sanders may be injured on the play.
2:10 – WSU 14, CU 0: Staub comes in at QB for Sanders, the Buffs drive near midfield, but are forced to punt. WSU starts at its 7 after a holding penalty.
1:32 – WSU 14, CU 0: Quick stop by the Buffs defense. CU takes over near midfield after a punt. Sanders may come back out, he was throwing on the sideline.
0:56 – WSU 14, CU 7: Hunter shows the Cougs why he’s one of the best players in the country. The two-way player hauls in a 45-yard touchdown from Sanders to cut the Cougars lead.
Buffs take a shot on third down and it pays off.
0:43 – WSU 21, CU 7: Cougars get their momentum right back, as Smithson runs back the kickoff for a 98-yard touchdown. Cougars get huge plays on defense and special teams in the first quarter.
12:08 – WSU 28, CU 7: Ward dumps off a screen pass to Watson on third down and he goes 23-yards for a touchdown. Cougars in full control in the early going.
10:26 – WSU 28, CU 7: Miscommunication on a third down snap and another Colorado drive goes nowhere. Things getting chirpy between the two teams.
8:08 – WSU 28, CU 7: Staub comes back in for Sanders, who heads into the locker room with an injury. Going to be tough for the Buffs to move the ball with a freshman QB in.
WSU starts at its 3 after a nice punt.
3:48 – WSU 35, CU 7: Cougars march 97 yards to add to the rout. Ward scores on a 1-yard draw play.
0:57 – WSU 42, CU 7: Ward hits Kelly for a 51-yard completion and then scores on a “tush push” from 2 yards out. All Cougars in the first half, and it doesn’t look like Colorado wants to be on the field anymore. Going to be a long halftime for the Buffs.
14:00 – WSU 42, CU 7: Cougars start the second half with a three-and-out. Less than ideal for taking time off the clock. Buffs start at their 27, third-string QB Kuld in.
8:15 – WSU 42, CU 7: Kuld is sacked on fourth down and WSU takes over at its own 34. Fifth sack of the game for the Cougars.
6:10 – WSU 48, CU 7: Williams burns Hunter on a go-route and Ward hits him for a 34-yard touchdown. A running clock could come in handy about now.
5:23 – WSU 56, CU 7: Edwards can’t handle a bad option pitch and Jackson scoops it and runs 74 yards for the Cougars. Second fumble recovery touchdown for Jackson tonight.
11:48 – WSU 56, CU 14: Colorado puts together a nice drive and Wilkerson scores a 1-yard rush TD. First score for the Buffs since the first quarter. CU goes 80 yards in 11 plays.
A lot of similarities can be drawn from Washington State and Colorado’s seasons.
Strong starts, followed by lengthy losing streaks set the Cougars (4-6, 1-6 Pac-12) and Buffaloes (4-6, 1-6) up with a make-or-break Friday night game. The loser won’t be able to clinch a bowl berth. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. on FS1.
CU won its first three games, but has only won once since. Meanwhile, WSU won its first four and has lost six straight. The Buffs, led by NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, nearly upset then-No. 19 Arizona last week, while the Cougars couldn’t complete a comeback at California.
If WSU loses it would snap the program’s seven-game bowl streak.
Washington State holds a 7-6 all-time record over Colorado, in a series dating back to 1981. Friday’s game will likely be the last, barring a postseason meeting.
WSU won the last game in 2019 and has won the last three against CU. The Buffaloes have only beat the Cougars in Pullman once, but have wins in Spokane and Seattle.
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