Palo Alto – A classic Pac-12 North shootout featuring No. 14 Washington State (7-1, 4-1) at No. 24 Stanford (5-3, 3-2) closed in a thrilling fashion Saturday.
Both squads grinded out an instant classic for 60 minutes on the gridiron with Wazzu emerging victorious by a narrow 41-38 margin.
The games opening quarter hummed along quickly and efficiently. The affair was squared off at 14 apiece with halfbacks Max Borghi and James Williams delivering both Cougar touchdowns.
The Cougs, more than comfortable in an offensive sprint, were ready for a dash to the finish line. But it didn’t last long.
By halftime, the evening was tinted Cardinal and had the signs of a marathon written all over it. Washington State matched their conference foe on paper, but the scoreboard neglected to reflect so reading 17-28. The only thing standing between the two opponents could very well have been reduced to the penalizing pile of laundry handing away 69 crucial yards.
“I don’t know if you can call what we did in the first half as offense,” Head Coach Mike Leach told the press.
WSU had sputtered on both sides of the ball. Going three-and-out just 10 times all season, the first half contributed two more marks to the running tally, and the absence of cornerback Sean Harper Jr. exposed mismatches in the defensive secondary.
Most notably, Stanford receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside – standing 6 foot 3 and 225 pounds – towered over the opposing Cougar corners for 10 receptions, 111 yards, and 2 scores.
But in a refreshingly rare fashion, WSU came out swinging in the third quarter. Having outscored their opponents over the 15-minute period only twice all year, Wazzu did it again after James Williams punched in his second trip to the end zone on a 3-yard rush.
Strangely enough, Gardner Minshew II’s trademarked connection with Tay Martin was absent most – but not all – of the night. As if right on que, WSU knotted up the ball game at 31 all after Minshew II stuck Tay Martin for a 7-yard touchdown reception icing a gutty 10-play, 82-yard fourth quarter drive.
“I think he’s the best quarterback in the country,” Leach told sideline reporter Jill Savage.
Failing to advance, the Stanford Cardinal turned the ball over on downs after star halfback Bryce Love was met at the line of scrimmage.
WSU responded accordingly. The entire offensive unit charged downfield in a precise and calculated fashion chewing valuable minutes off the clock. And their leader, Gardner Minshew II, showed true grit on a crucial fourth down 2-yard rush to keep Washington State’s comeback hopes alive.
Hope later became reality after a Stanford flag advanced WSU right on their doorstep. A lightening quick out rout by receiver Renard Bell gave Wazzu their first lead since the games opening quarter. In classic Mike Leach era fashion, the Cougs capped off a late lead-changing drive, and it appeared to be all over.
Until it wasn’t.
The defensive mismatch resurfaced as Costello and Arcega-Whiteside hooked up for 25 yards and another game tying touchdown. Washington State had no more than 1 minute and 25 seconds to finish it on The Farm.
Flexing his game on command, Jamire Calvin took a clutch reception for 35 yards into field goal range with just under a minute to play. Placekicker Blake Mazza, who took almost all of fall camp to earn his starting job, promptly knocked through a 42-yarder with just seconds remaining proving to all of Coug Nation the redshirt freshman has ice in his veins.
“We’re underdogs who expect to win,” Minshew II told Savage.
The graduate transfer signal caller would end the night blemish free completing 80 percent of his passes for 438 yards and 3 trips to the end zone. His most reliable target of the night, junior Dezmon Patmon, reeled in 10 reception for 127 yards on countless crucial downs.
Washington State, who was predicted by various media outlets to win no more than four games, now stands alone atop the Pac-12 North.
“Everybody thought we were gonna get our head kicked in nearly every game,” Leach said. “It doesn’t do us any benefit to pay attention to that.”
WSU returns home next week to Martin Stadium hosting the California Golden Bears (5-3, 2-2) on Dad’s Weekend. Live coverage and kickoff time remains undecided.
Q1 11:09 – Stan 7, WSU 0
Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello syncs up with JJ Arcega-Whiteside for 18 yards and a score on the games opening drive. (Jet Toner kick good)
Q1 8:17 – WSU 7, Stan 7
Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew II and company waste no time answering the Cardinal. A 5-yard touchdown rush by James Williams sealed the 6 play, 75-yard response. (Blake Mazza kick good)
Q1 5:23 – WSU 14, Stan 7
WSU capitalizes on a Stanford turnover. 5 plays later, freshman halfback Max Borghi crossed the goal line on 4-yard check down. (Mazza kick good)
Q1 1:22 – WSU 14, Stan 14
The Cardinal call the Coug’s raise. Halfback Cameron Scarlett takes a jumbo set handoff 2 yards into the end zone. (Toner kick good)
Q2 9:25 – Stan 21, WSU 14
Costello plays with the WSU secondary hitting tight end Kaden Smith for a 10-yard touchdown reception regaining the Cardinal lead. (Toner kick good)
Q2 1:04 – Stan 28, WSU 14
Fullback Houston Heimuli scores off a 1-yard reception out of Stanford jumbo set just before the half. (Toner kick good)
Q2 0:00 – Stan 28, WSU 17
Placekicker Blake Mazza converted on a 23-yard attempt courtesy of Jamire Calvin breaking away for 54 yards just three plays earlier.
Q3 10:32 – Stan 28, WSU 24
Receiver Dezmon Patmon took over the drive with 4 receptions and 58 yards to set up a short yardage situation. Williams punches in a 3-yard rush for his second trip to the end zone. (Mazza kick good)
Q3 6:16 – Stan 31, WSU 24
Cardinal placekicker Jet Toner converts on a 40-yard attempt.
Q4 12:26 – Stan 31, WSU 31
Minshew II fires a bullet to Tay Martin in the back of the end zone. The quarterbacks second touchdown of the night knotted this one up in the fourth quarter. (Mazza kick good)
Q4 4:28 – WSU 38, Stan 31
Minshew hits Bell on a quick 3-yard out route to give Wazzu their first lead since the opening quarter. (Mazza kick good)
Q4 1:25 – WSU 38, Stan 38
Costello and JJ Arcega-Whiteside played catch for 25 yards and the game tying touchdown. (Toner kick good)
Q4 0:19 – WSU 41, Stan 38
In an instant classic, Blake Mazza clutched a 42-yard game winning field goal to put the contest to bed.