SAN ANTONIO – If the No. 13 Washington State Cougars (11-2, 7-2) were an 80’s rock band, then the 2018 campaign was their hit album. The token ballad? look no further than the Alamo Bowl finale of which they bested No. 24 Iowa State (8-5, 6-3) in a 28-26 edging.
Drama stirred thanks to a pair of temporary Cougar injuries in the form of Hunter Dale and Skyler Thomas coupled with controversial officiating. The zebras handed Iowa State targeting calls like they were going out of style, robbed Marcus Strong of a pick-six for a trivial celebration, and evidently forgot to watch either offensive line for holding all night. Going both ways, however, the bad breaks appeared to have leveled out entering the final minutes of play.
“That’s why you have these games,” Mike Leach told the press. “To fight it out and see what happens.”
A 21-20 Cougar advantage was protected after Peyton Pelluer, defensive player of the game, mugged Cyclone tailback David Montgomery in one of the most elegantly executed strips you’ll find. Mind you, the junior workhorse hadn’t lost the ball in two years.
A 30-yard, four-play drive – held together with what seemed like scotch tape and a pinch of Mustache Magic – was just enough for Max Borghi to bounce his way 10 yards for a final house call.
“It was a fun play,” Pelluer said of his turnover. “Glad the offense capitalized on that.”
Valiantly responding just 3 possessions later, Montgomery redeemed himself on a 5-yard touchdown carry giving his Cyclones another breath of air pending the two-point attempt.
While gunslinger Gardner Minshew II didn’t play his usual game, it was good enough. After the Cougar defense pulled the plug on ISU during the untimed down, the offense proceeded to move the chains as if it was their god-given right.
Cue victory formation and the balloon drop as the clock blinked triple zeros. The Washington State Cougars behind an unorthodox roster that vicariously exemplified their head coach to a tee had just pocketed their best season in school history.
Leach credited his team postgame citing their ability to close as a “critical” ingredient to their success.
“There are very few teams I’ve played that I have more respect for than Iowa State. I thought they did a great job,” Mike leach said. “But I am really proud of this team and how we were able to grow this year.”
You see, ballads are often an accurate representation of life. And unlike a Disney film, they don’t always end with a crisp bow knotting up emotional loose ends. When the last ball was snapped and the final whistle blew, only one thing separated Gun N’ Roses from Cinderella.
He was written on towels, sharpied on biceps, on the back of every fan’s mind, and at the core of every player’s heart. Friday nights ballad was a masterpiece written by a 100-some-odd men for the brother they couldn’t hug afterward.
Perhaps for the first time in Cougar history, the most impactful player never took a snap, attended a practice, or entertained nosey reporters all season. It would be foolish to suggest late quarterback Tyler Hilinski wasn’t with Washington State every step of the way.
But if History of Rock & Roll – a notoriously easy diversity credit at WSU – has taught the student body and recent alumni anything, it’s that the relevancy of a well orchestrated ballad stands the test of time.
In a rather abrupt halt, thus concludes the most industrious and lucrative season in Palouse history. Equally heartwarming as it was heartbreaking, its impact cannot be properly measured nor appreciated – much like a presidential term – until several years later. So for now, we wait.
Coaches and staff will hit the recruiting trail as we next spectate Crimson and Grey threads on the gridiron in the annual spring game. Word on the street is Martin Stadium will host the 2019 event as oppose to North Spokane’s Joe Albi in years past. Expect the official date to be set sometime in the latter half of April.
- Gardner Minshew: 35-49, 299 yards, 3 touchdowns (1 rushing)
- James Williams: 7 receptions, 53 yards
- Dezmon Patmon: 6 receptions, 76 yards, 1 touchdown
- Max Borghi: 11 touches, 35 all-purpose yards, 1 touchdown
- Peyton Pelluer: 11 tackles (7 solo), 1 sack, 1 strip
- Marcus Strong: 7 solo tackles, 1 pass breakup, 1 interception
- Jalen Thompson: 5 tackles (2 solo), 1 pass breakup, 1 interception
- Brock Purdy: 18-27, 315 yards, 2 inceptions
- Montgomery: 26 carries, 124 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 fumble
- Hekeem Butler: 9 receptions, 192 yards
- Marcel Spears: 9 tackles (6 solo), 1.5 tackles-for-loss
- Mike Rose: 7 tackles (4 solo)
- Greg Eisworth: 3 tackles (2 solo), 2 pass breakups
Notables & Accolades
- A final 11-2 record marks the winningest season in WSU history.
- WSU’s all-time bowl record moves to 8-7
- Mike Leach’s bowl record with the program moves to 2-3
- Reported attendance was 60,675, the largest Alamo Bowl crowd ever featuring two out-of-state programs.
- Borghi’s 12th touchdown ties Deon Burnett (1999) for the most scores by a Cougar freshman in a single season.
- Redshirt senior Robert Valencia made his first career start for the Cougs (right guard).
- Minshew surpasses former Arizona Wildcats and reigning Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles for the most pass completions in Alamo Bowl history (35).
- Minshew set the single-season Pac-12 passing record for completions (468) and yards (4,776).
- Peyton Pelluer ends his WSU career 5th all-time in tackles