PULLMAN – It had been cold and rainy all night when the No. 10/8 Washington State Cougars (8-1, 5-1) hosted the unranked California Golden Bears (5-4, 2-4) Saturday in Martin Stadium clawing their way to a gutty 19-13 victory.
Unlike recent history between the two programs, the nocturnal bout played out in a defensive battle with neither squad jumping to a commanding lead before the clock struck triple zeros.
Sideline reporter Jessamyn McIntyre disclosed Cougar quarterback Gardner Minshew II was well prepared for the weather after practicing with a wet ball all week. Though, it didn’t matter much as the elements tamed come kickoff.
Minshew II expectedly had his way with Berkley’s secondary completing 69 percent of his throws for 334 yards and 1 score. His one-sack outing’s only blemish came at the hands of California’s standout inside linebacker Evan Weaver.
Weaver – a Spokane native and product of Gonzaga Prep high school – won the 2015 4A WIAA state championship over Skyline alongside WSU redshirt freshman cornerback Armani Marsh. And while Marsh carded a pick in the high school state title bout, Weaver would be painting the stat sheet Saturday.
The 6-foot-3 junior not only tallied up a team-high 9 tackles, but his first quarter interception of Minshew II – complimented by a flag or two – pathed the way to 7 of Cal’s 10 first-half points.
“I thought they did a good job keeping us out of rhythm but we did make plays, and we did make quite a lot of plays,” Leach said. “Coming into this thing, they’re one of the best defenses in the conference and I felt like that after we left this game too.”
Aside from Weaver, Mike Leach’s offense had little first half trouble flying up and down the sidelines of Martin; however, the scoreboard was not showing it. Up just 13-10 at intermission, the Cougs outgained their opponent by a 239-117 yard margin.
“I honestly thought we played a little better than the score this game, but you have to fight through it,” Mike Leach said.
Making zero third quarter noise, the affair was tied at 13 apiece entering the fourth. And with the Cougar defense down two starters – Sean Harper Jr (undisclosed injury) and Dominick Silvels (targeting) – no favors were given by the tightly wound officials who appeared to only see in shades of crimson.
“I can’t talk about any of the calls, so [reporters] will have to speak for those of us who are silenced,” Leach said.
Indeed, the Cougs have been charged more penalty yards than their opponent in all but one conference game on the year. Tonight was no different as a lopsided 80-25 figure played in favor of the Bears.
And even when Wazzu appeared to catch a break, it just wasn’t so. A potential pick-six courtesy of linebacker Willie Taylor III was fumbled in the end zone and batted out of bounds by teammate Jahad Woods resulting in Cal’s possession via touchback.
“It was kind of one of those nights, ya know? we had some things not bounce our way but that’s how it is sometimes. You just got to find a way to win,” Minshew II said.
Wazzu’s free safety Skyler Thomas got the message. Just when the Golden Bears were knocking on Queen of Victory’s door, the redshirt sophomore flashed his athletic prowess picking off co-signal caller Brandon McIlwain inside the red zone. Even though the Cougs marched 67 yards just to come up empty handed, the crimson and gray lived to see another down.
“Skyler is a guy we can depend on on defense. He’s always where he needs to be,” receiver Easop Winston Jr. said. “Coach Leach preaches making routine plays and for Skyler that was a routine play.”
The ensuing California drive took no more than a minute off the game clock resulting in a much needed three-and-out. Tied with 2 minutes 39 seconds to play, WSU controlled its own destiny.
Two minutes and six plays – that’s all it took for Minshew II, Jamire Calvin and Easop Winston Jr. to speed past the Bears secondary who looked no more capable of stopping the offensive onslaught than a dozen of delineator sticks. The receiving duo combined for 57 yards on the drive with Winston Jr. cashing in for six on a 10-yard pitch from Minshew II.
“I think this team is super unique,” Minshew II said. “We’ve developed such a confidence in that situation right now where it can go down to the wire but we have the belief that we are gonna win.”
“We don’t lose at home,” true freshman Max Borghi added.
Advancing the home win streak to 12 games, Washington State maintains their frontrunner status atop the Pac-12. Next week, the Cougs pay Bolder, Colorado a visit taking on the Buffalo. Live coverage of the 12:30 kickoff can be found on ESPN.
Q1 10:35 – WSU 3, Cal 0
Cougar placekicker Blake Mazza split the uprights on a 29-yard field goal on the contest’s opening drive.
Q2 11:00 – Cal 7, WSU 3
The Golden Bears capitalized on a Washington State turnover with quarterback Chase Garber finding fullback Malik McMorris on a 2-yard out in the west end zone. (Greg Thomas kick good)
Q2 6:47 – WSU 10, Cal 7
Max Borghi powers through California’s front seven on the following drive rushing between the tackles for a 5-yard score. (Blake Mazza kick good)
Q2 0:36 – WSU 10, Cal 10
Penalty yards pushed Cal into field goal range allowing placekicker Greg Thomas to knot the game up from 42 yards out.
Q2 0:01 – WSU 13, Cal 10
California unsuccessfully iced Blake Mazza; the redshirt sophomore closed out the half with 36-yard conversion and a Cougar lead.
Q3 2:04 – WSU 13, Cal 13
Thomas splits the uprights for the second time. This one – a 46-yarder – resulted in the evenings second tie.
Q4 0:32 – WSU 19, Cal 13
Minshew II, Jamire Calvin and Easop Winston Jr. highlight a 6-play, 69-yard drive in the contests closing minute. (Mazza kick no good)