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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A Grip on Sports: With their future in doubt, the Cougars are doing everything they can to make the present special

A GRIP ON SPORTS • There have been some great ones over the years, but considering the stakes, was Washington State’s 38-35 “wow-they’re-trying-to-give-this-away-aren’t-they?” type of win over visiting Oregon State yesterday a Top 10 Cougar regular-season win? Heck, was Saturday one of the most successful ever in the Inland Northwest?  


• Our answers to those questions? Yes. After all, when did WSU play a game in which everyone was all peaches and cream before the game – the band playing the opponent’s fight song? – and then had so much to prove during it? OK, the latter part seems to be a permanent part of the Cougars, and their fans, DNA. But still, it felt different.

Heck, even the two representatives from Fox’s Empire, Jeff Levering and Mark Helfrich, commiserated with the thousands of Beaver and Cougar fans watching, as if their network didn’t play Darth Vader’s role in the destruction of the Pac-12. But we’re nit-picking here. This was a day in which the fuel to the fire was supplied by a lack of respect – isn’t it always? – that was actually deserved. By both teams.

The Cougars played near-perfect offensive football if you have the ability to forget the two times they put the ball on the turf and Oregon State fell on it. Cam Ward was spectacular, though that might not be the right word. Stupendous? Magnificent? How about Gardner-Minshew-like?

The Beavers? Offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren, for some inexplicable reason, decided not to utilize his best offensive weapon, quarterback DJ Uiagalelei running the ball, until late in the game. The 6-foot-4, 251-pound former 5-star recruit was unstoppable late and his feet as much as his arm led the Beavers to three four-quarter touchdowns.

Not like Washington State is complaining, mind you. Take out the 13 yards loss to sacks and Uiagalelei rushed seven times for 74 yards. More than 10 yards a carry is pretty good. And probably would have opened more lanes for Damien Martinez, who, for the first time in nine games, the Cougars held under 100 yards rushing.

When it was over, Jake Dickert, who made some inexplicable decisions – forgoing a field goal that would have forced OSU to score two touchdowns, blitzing repeatedly on the Beavers’ final drive instead of making them use precious time – late, jumped on his “We Belong” hype train and criticized a Lee Corso comment on GameDay. As if Corso was under Vader’s mind control or something.

The bottom line? The Force seems to be with the Cougars this season. As are probably 87.5 percent of casual college football fans.

Is it enough to overcome the Evil Empire that is hiding within the sport’s hierarchy and ensure a top-level outcome for Washington State’s future? Probably not. Economic forces are behind the Cougars and Beavers being exiled to Tatooine. But days like Saturday show neither program, foes on the field but partners off it, will go down without a fight. If there’s a flaw in the Death Star, they’ll find it. And blow the whole thing to pieces.

• Sacramento State has played the bully role in the Big Sky Conference for a couple years. Heck, the Hornets even bullied Stanford last weekend. But we’re starting to believe Jason Eck’s Vandals are the team of destiny in the conference this year. Is there something in the water from the Moscow/Pullman aquifer?

Idaho went into Saturday’s home game ranked seventh in the nation. Not shabby but maybe not indicative of what Eck’s team can do. So it showed everyone with a 36-27 win in a game that was tied with a second left.

There is one problem though. As big as the win was, and it was huge to start the conference season 1-0 instead of the other way round, it is just the beginning. If the Pac-12 has more depth than any other Power 5 conference, the same can be said of the Big Sky at the FCS level.

The Vandals don’t get to rest. They have to travel up U.S. 195 next Saturday to face sure-to-be-ranked Eastern Washington. Games with Montana, Montana State and Weber State, all ranked highly, follow over the next six weeks. It won’t be easy – though both the Griz and Bobcats visit Moscow.

Is UI up to it? We believe so.

• The Eagles were certainly up to whatever UC Davis had to offer. But, then again, they always are. Last night’s 27-24 victory over the 15th-ranked Aggies was Eastern’s 11th in the series without a loss.

It was also the Eagles second consecutive win over a ranked team. They have three more chances, with Idaho on the red turf next week, Weber in town in late October and a November trip to Montana State. Plus, there is challenge of Portland State’s ground-and-pound waiting in the Rose City the last week of next month.

Such is the tale of the Big Sky this season. The conference’s strength was just one chapter of the novella that was written on Saturday in the Inland Northwest.


WSU: The “We Belong” narrative is already getting old. Maybe the 21st-ranked Cougars don’t belong in one of the old, staid Power Five conferences. Maybe they belong in something better. Something of their own making. They seem to be re-writing every other script this season, why not college football’s future? On the field, they are showing a grit few Cougar teams have shown over the years, exemplified by the winning battle for last night’s final on-side kick. Greg Woods covers all that happened in Pullman yesterday in this game story. … Theo Lawson covered the loss of Lincoln Victor and the two receivers who combined to fill the void, Josh Kelly and Kyle Williams. Theo also enumerated the difference makers. … Greg Lee wrote about the defense and how it was just good enough to keep the Beavers at bay. … Tyler Tjomsland gives us the view from the field with this photo gallery. … The folks in the office took care of the recap with highlights. … We watched at home – no fiddling needed with today’s high-def antennas – and shared our thoughts about the game and the broadcast in this TV Take. … Before we get to the Oregon State side of things (and the off-the-field drama), we want to share this story about WSU alum Frankie Luvu, who is now a U.S. citizen. He’s in Seattle this week to play the Seahawks. … OK, on to the 14th-ranked Beavers, who saw some deficiencies exposed by the WSU pass offense, deficiencies not exploited in their opening three wins. … The Stepbrother aspect of the matchup was a story that no one could resist, including Northwest columnists Larry Stone and Bill Oram.

Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and the nation, Jon Wilner has his usual Saturday Night Five in the Mercury News in which he ranks the conference’s undefeated teams. … Stewart Mandel has some thoughts on the conference – and coaches getting all angry after games – in his Athletic column as well. … No. 8 Washington had little trouble scoring on the California defense, or on the Bears’ special teams and offense for that matter. The Huskies rolled. … On the opposite end of the spectrum, Utah and UCLA each scored one offensive touchdown. A first-play pick-six was the difference in the 11th-ranked Utes’ 14-7 win over No. 22 UCLA. The crowd in Salt Lake City was crazy, as was Utah’s defense against the Bruins and their freshman quarterback. … We had to laugh. Dan Lanning’s pregame speech reeked of hypocrisy, considering his team was wearing mood-ring-like cleats as the 10th-ranked Ducks demolished Deion Sanders’ 19th-ranked Buffaloes. Colorado didn’t click at all on offense against Oregon and didn’t win often on defense. … No. 5 USC didn’t look it, especially on defense. But it didn’t matter. Caleb Williams covered up the deficiencies as the Trojans picked up a 42-28 victory against Arizona State in Tempe. … In the someone-had-to-win game of the day, Arizona scored one more point than Stanford in somnolent Stanford Stadium. The Wildcats lost quarterback Jaden de Laura in the third quarter but won the game 21-20.

EWU: Any road win, especially any conference road win, is a good one. The Eagles will take their 27-24 decision over UC Davis and be happy. Dan Thompson has all the details in this story. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, the biggest upset of the night was in Flagstaff and there can be no debate. Previously winless Northern Arizona held No. 13 Montana scoreless in the second half and won 28-14. … The biggest showdown, non-Moscow version, was in Ogden, Utah, where third-ranked Montana State swamped 10th-ranked Weber State 40-0. … Idaho State picked up its first win of the season, 35-21 at home over still winless Northern Colorado. … Portland State ran all over visiting Cal Poly in a 59-21 victory.

Idaho: The Vandals will probably move up just one spot in the polls this week as every team above it won. Except, of course, Sac State. Dave Nichols has this story on Idaho’s 36-27 victory.

Preps: Dave also has his Friday Night (High)lights column, focused on a looming showdown in the GSL’s 2A ranks.

Indians: The oldest living member of an Indians’ team died recently at 96. Jim Price has Bobby Morgan’s obituary. Morgan played for the Indians in 1947.

Mariners: A 2-0 loss means the M’s are slowing sinking in the West. But a second consecutive Astros’ loss means they still have wild card hope. … Ty France flails away at anything close at the plate. And he wonders why he’s struggling.

Seahawks: The beat-up Hawks welcome the beat-up Panthers to Lumen Field. Such is the way of the NFL. The game starts at 1 on CBS.

Kraken: As we said, there wasn’t a captain last season. There isn’t one yet this season. But it may be, at some point Matty Beniers.


• We were impressed by the Fox broadcast of the Pac-2 showdown last night. Especially the easy-to-listen-to play-by-play from Levering. This guy is going places – and not just Pullman in the fall. Until later …