PULLMAN – Max Borghi took to the microphone a week in advance promising a win to the Cougar faithful Saturday night over Oregon State (5-6, 4-4). A win for alumni, students, fans, and Cougs everywhere.
Yes, the cougars turned the ball over 5 times. Yes, the Cougars blew a double-digit fourth-quarter lead. And yes, the Cougars gained it right back in the ballgame’s dwindling seconds.
All gas and no breaks, the halfback and Co. delivered as Washington State (6-5, 3-5) trapped the Beavers with late-game heroics behind a 54-53 final score.
A simple 2-yard rush between the tackles put it on ice granting the Cougs bowl eligibility for the fifth consecutive season. A feat unparalleled in program history.
“We got great players and great coaches to work with. We just keep trying to get better,” Leach said. “The biggest thing in games like this is having the resiliency to fight through.”
Speculation in the media room suggested Gordon gave Borghi the ball to allow the halfback to finish what he started. Forcing his roommate’s hand to put his money where his mouth is.
However, both Gordon and Leach diffused that school of thought postgame citing the Beavers had a weak box. They made it clear checking into a run was the right call reguardless of the situation at hand.
“They sold out on the pass so we ran it,” Mike Leach said.
But the night was bigger than football. It’s ‘Cougs versus Everyone‘ for a reason. Or rather, Cougs versus everything – even mortality.
He wasn’t suited up and neither in attendance, but Tyler Hilinski’s would-be senior night was rightfully so a focal point of the conversation and-field battle. He and his family was honored with the rest of the senior class before the opening kick.
“Can’t help but think about it, Tyler is always with us every step of the way,” Gordon said. “It was awesome to see Kim and Mark tonight.”
Anthony Gordon ended the ballgame as the conferences single-season touchdown leader at a clip of 45 – a record previously shared by California’s Jared Goff and Washington’s Jake Browning.
The record stands in Gordon’s name, but it just as easily could have been penned by Tyler. After all, he was Falk’s successor – the unequivocal heir to the throne – until Minshew was invited to grab the vacant seat.
“I can’t help but think that [Tyler] helped us out,” Jahad Woods said. “I’m trying not to get emotional. We won this game for Tyler and his family.”
And even to those who never met 3, that didn’t change a thing.
“I’ve never met him personally, but the impact he’s left on this team is tremendous,” Misiona Aiolupotea-Pei said.
Washington State came out flat as day old soda pop, handing out two turnovers in as many possession.
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.
It seemed the ballgame was over before it started as recent history suggests. But strangely enough, a few defensive stops breathed live back into the collapsed Cougar diaphragm.
Marcus Strong recorded a crucial pass breakup – over standout wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins no less – forcing a turnover-on-downs while Bryce Beekman recorded his first career interception assisted by a Justus Rogers rush the following series.
Gordon took the opportunity syncing up a pair of scores with Dez Patmon and Renard Bell over the next three series to knot things up at 14 all.
From there, 10,000 fans are Martin Stadium witnessed two heavy weight boxers exchange haymakers in rhythm. Hardly either side showed consistent defensive play allowing Gordon and his Beaver counterpart, Jake Luton, to combine for 1,014 yards.
Gordon’s 606 passing yards is the second most in WSU history behind Connor Halliday’s 734 yard outing against California in 2014.
“The individual awards aren’t really all that important to me,” Gordon said. “Reflecting on it a little bit, kind of goes to show if you keep your head down and work hard anything is possible.”
Gordon’s top target resided in Renard Bell, filling in at the ‘Y’ receiver position in place of a temporarily dinged up Brandon Arconado, for 8 receptions, 108 yards and 2 scores.
The Beavers had thoughts of their own,swinging a double-digit deficit into an equally large lead in the form of 29 fourth-quarter points. A successful onside kick, followed by a Dez Patmon deflection-turned-interception, played a hefty role in the momentum shift.
But WSU put its head down and went to work. A 7-play, 75-yard drive – with a redeeming Patmon touchdown – put the Cougs down by just a single score.
Wazzu failed the onside with just over 2 minutes left leaving them with a ghost of a chance. But the Cougars remained confident according to the head man.
“We probably have more comebacks in the last five years than anybody else in the conference,” Leach said. “Despite our struggles this year, I do think that within some of our seniors there is a sense in understanding of that.”
It took a firm defensive stand, savvy clock management, and a Beaver pass interference call for Washington State to sit pretty on OSU’s doorstep for Borghi’s walk-off.
That’s all she wrote. And while the Cougs didn’t play great, they played ‘good enough.‘ And sometimes, that’s all you can ask for.
Washington State concludes their regular season at rival Washington (6-5, 3-5) for the annual Apple Cup matchup. Kickoff is set at 1 p.m. (PST).
As for any future Borghi promises, the halfback has just one before the regular-season finale.
“I will be scoring. A lot.”
(Top photo: Jack Ellis – Cougar Sports Network)
Q1 9:16 – OSU 7, WSU 0
Beavers drive 99 yards on a ground-heavy attack. Jermar Jefferson caps off the march with a 54-yard draw to the house. (Everett Hayes kick good)
Q1 2:17 – WSU 7, OSU 7
Marcus Strong’s crucial pass breakup sets up a 62-yard drive highlighted by Dez Patmon’s 12-yard cross to score. (Blake Mazz kick good)
Q2 12:38 – OSU 14, WSU 7
Jake Luton syncs up a 46-yard post to Champ Flemings for points. Skyler Thomas pokes the ball loose; however, Flemings had already broken the plane. (Hayes kick good)
Q2 9:24 – WSU 14, OSU 14
Gordon orchestrates a 75-yard drive – laced with short quick hits underneath – hitting Renard Bell on a 10-yard touchdown cross. (Mazza kick good)
Q2 4:51 – WSU 21, OSU 14
Dion McIntosh breaks a tackle in opening space, scoring his first receiving touchdown of the season, on a 33-yard shovel pass. (Mazza kick good)
Q2 2:20 – WSU 21, OSU 21
Luton finds tight end Noah Togiai on an out route after evading pressure from the left side of the pocket.The 18-yard reception knots the ballgame up for the third time. (Hayes kick good)
Q2 0:26 – OSU 24, WSU 21
Nahshon Wright intercepted Gordon in the first half’s closing minutes for placekicker Everett Hayes to boot a 47-yard field goal.
Q3 8:06 – WSU 28, OSU 24
Calvin Jackson Jr. takes an untouched slant rout 36 yard to the end zone for the second half’s first touchdown. Gordon ties the former California Bear Jared Goff (2015) and Washington Huskey Jake Browning (2016) for the most single-season touchdown passes in Pac-12 history at a clip of 43.
Q3 1:44 – WSU 35, OSU 24
The highest level throw of the game came off the hand of Gordon – a 10 connection to Bell – turning the nose over the linebackers head and right into the lap of his teammate. The pitch and catch secured Gordon’s name atop the Pac-12 record books as the single-season passing touchdown leader.
Q4 13:42 – WU 35, OSU 32
Tight end Teagan Quitoriano won a jumpball at WSU’s one-yard line over defensive backs Bryce Beekman and Armani Marsh for a 28-yard score. (Two-point conversion good)
Q4 9:52 – WSU 42, OSU 32
With a half-capacity Martin Stadium chanting his name pre-snap, Max Borghi took a handoff right between the tackles for his first touchdown of the night.
Q4 7:32 – WSU 42, OSU 39
Jermar Jefferson takes a draw 5 yards to the house after a pair of explosive Linsey and Hodgins receptions put the Beavers into striking distance.
Q4 6:45 – OSU 46, WSU 42
A successful onside attempt leads to 14-point swing for the Beavs. The latest strike finding Jefferson on a 36-yard wheel.
Q4 4:17 – OSU 53, WSU 42
A well drawn play-action pass to Jefferson pads the Beavers improbably lead to two scores.
Q4 2:10 – OSU 53, WSU 48
A 14-yard slant to Patmon breaks the plane on a diving effort from the receiver – beating two Beaver defenders to the line. (Two-point conversion no good)
Q4 0:02 – WSU 54, OSU 53
Borghi knocks one home for the second time tonight, putting this ballgame on ice, to grant Washington State bowl eligibility. (two-point conversion no good).