Every college football fan has a memory from the movie “Rudy.” Whether it was his – spoiler alert – climatic sack or his portrayal of Knute Rockne’s rousing made-for-the-movies speech, there are moments to remember.
As we watched Washington State hang on for a 38-35 victory Saturday from Pullman, we – and probably some of Comcast’s 100,000 Spokane County customers – were reminded of an early scene in the movie. The Ruettigers gathered around a 1960s TV to watch Notre Dame. The relevant scene? When Rudy fiddled with the antenna to pull in the game.
With this one on Fox 28, those folks – us included – had to use an antenna to watch Cameron Ward and the 21st-ranked Cougars play out their backyard brawl with 14th-ranked Oregon State.
The usual fashion? Not in this one. No DVR, no pausing, no home replay. No matter. Jeff Levering and Mark Helfrich did a great job describing what some called this year’s Pac-2 showdown.
What they saw
• At least the high-definition picture was nearly perfect, which allowed us to watch Ward’s near-perfect first-half performance. The Cougars quarterback completed 19 of 20 passes before halftime, with his only incompletion actually resulting in a WSU gain thanks to an Oregon State penalty after the play. He finished 28 of 34 for 404 passing yards. He also accounted for five total touchdowns.
The Cougars needed many of Ward’s perfect throws as they self-destructed a bit in the first 30 minutes with two lost fumbles.
But Ward connected on passes of 63 yards for a score to Kyle Williams, of 29 yards to Josh Kelly, a 24-yard one to Kelly, a 44-yard touchdown to Kelly and, finally, one of 40 yards to Williams.
All were well-thrown, but the best was the last one to Williams, a perfect over-the shoulder, drop-the-ball-into-a-basket toss down the sideline.
Helfrich, who knows something about quarterback play – he coached Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota at Oregon – couldn’t stop praising Ward, who had 293 yards before halftime.
He compared this year’s Ward to last year’s and expressed his appreciation of how much he’s improved. As an example, he mentioned the second play, the 63-yard toss to Williams .
During halftime, former Washington coach Chris Petersen, who also knows something about quarterbacks, echoed those comments.
• All of that passing excellence occurred without Lincoln Victor, the Cougars’ leader in receptions coming in, who was injured early. The broadcast caught him walking onto the field after halftime on crutches, his left foot off the ground. They also showed him on the sidelines in the fourth quarter.
It was an example of the broadcast’s high level, with Levering, whose day job is with the Milwaukee Brewers, and Helfrich, who has improved as he’s become more comfortable as an analyst.
• Give Fox credit. No, not the financial type. The national network has nothing to do with the carriage-fee dispute, which pits KAYU’s parent company with Comcast and resulted in the channel no longer available on cable in Spokane. We’re talking the recognition kind. Mainly because the network leaned into the Pac-2 narrative – verbally and visually. The idea that two ranked teams from two land-grant universities wouldn’t have a Power Five spot. That, as the Pac-12 was sold off for parts, Washington State and No. 14 Oregon State, were left behind.
Helfrich, who grew up and still lives in the Northwest, was the most vocal advocate.
“Find a home for these two unbelievable institutions,” Helfrich said.
When it was over, Levering said, “This was one for the ages. This was a great game.”
What we saw
• Kelly catches the ball as well with one hand as many receivers do with two.
The Fresno State transfer caught one in the first half with one hand under pressure. The catch elicited praise from Helfrich, but not as much as the second time he did it.
On a second-and-4 from the 19, with WSU leading 28-14, Kelly was matched up one-on-one – a common occurrence as the Cougars spread the OSU defense often – with freshman Jermod McCoy.
McCoy had great coverage, as well as a firm grip on Kelly’s right wrist.
But, as Levering said, “Who needs two hands?” Not Kelly, who reached out with his free left one and snatched the perfectly thrown pass.
“That’s just showing off, right?” Helfrich said.
Not when there is only one available. The catch resulted in Kelly’s second touchdown and Ward’s fourth.
• It’s not like Spokane hasn’t produced its share of Pac-12 officials, in football or basketball.
The latest to ascend into the role of referee is John Love. An attorney, Love has also been a football official for years. On Saturday, he served as the referee for the first time in a Pac-12 game at Pullman.
Most times, working in the conference, especially if you live in Spokane, necessitates a decent-length airplane trip. Not this one.
The game, unlike many over the years in the soon-to-be-defunct conference, was rarely marred by head-scratching flags – until the fourth quarter. In fact, when WSU successfully executed a key fake punt deep in its territory but was flagged for too many men downfield, Love’s crew got together and ended up picking up the flag.