WSU roars back to surprise Utah, 28-27
Cougars fall behind 21-0 less than 10 minutes into the game before making a comeback.
Seattle Times staff reporter
SALT LAKE CITY — What began as a merciless Utah blowout instead morphed into one of Washington State’s all-time stunners here Saturday night as the Cougars pecked back from a 21-point deficit to shock the Utes 28-27.
Utah had a 21-0 lead less than 10 minutes into the game. But WSU hung tough against the Utah offense, and in mind-blowing fashion came all the way back to take a 28-27 lead with 4:51 left on an 81-yard Connor Halliday-to-Vince Mayle touchdown pass.
It remained for the Cougars, though, to stop the Utes, who have a terrific field-goal kicker in Andy Phillips. First, receiver Dres Anderson, who was free in front of WSU cornerback Daquawn Brown at the Utah 42, dropped a probable touchdown pass.
Utah was able to convert a fourth-and-inches at its 49. But then a series of Ute misfires in the passing game, culminating with an underthrown Travis Wilson pass for Anderson, and WSU took over with a chance to run out the clock.
But Utah had two timeouts left, and two runs netted WSU negative yardage. WSU had to punt with 1:33 left and the Utes still had a puncher’s chance, taking over at their 20 with 1:26 left.
They got a first down on a 13-yard Wilson pass to Kenneth Scott, and moved to the Utah 37 on another short Wilson pass. But the Cougars, bringing six-man rushes against the pressure-vulnerable Wilson, stiffened, and with 30 seconds left, Wilson’s desperation pass for Anderson was batted away by freshman corner Charleston White and it was finished.
It was a direly needed victory for the Cougars, who would have started the season 1-4 and without a victory over a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent. And it was a stab to the gut for the Utes, who had just beaten Michigan on the road, and for the fourth year in a row started Pac-12 play with a defeat.
The Cougars finished with 495 yards of total offense to 357 for Utah. Halliday threw for 417 yards, completing 39 of 61 attempts for four touchdowns with two interceptions.
Down 24-7 at halftime, WSU closed to 10 as Halliday hit Mayle for an 11-yard touchdown with six minutes left in the third quarter.
The game could hardly have started worse for the Cougars, who know something about bad performances in this stadium. Two years ago, in the poorest outing of the three-year Mike Leach regime, WSU fell behind 31-0 at halftime and lost 49-6, after which he ordered his offensive and defensive linemen to appear before media members to explain themselves.
Washington State actually was in worse shape earlier in this game. Five minutes in, backed up deep in their territory, the Cougars’ Halliday appeared to lead Isiah Myers too far on a slant route in the rain, and Utah cornerback Eric Rowe deflected it up in the air, gathered it in and danced easily into the end zone.
Exactly 60 seconds later, after a futile WSU possession, the Cougars punted to Kaelin Clay, who started at the right sideline, bounced off a tackle and got a crunching block as he reversed field, taking it to the house for a 14-0 Utah lead. Clay had returned one for a score last week at Michigan.
Adding insult to injury, a player who once signed with WSU — running back Devontae Booker — took a handoff and bolted 76 yards for a touchdown as Ute blockers shielded WSU corners Daquawn Brown and Charleston White. That made it 21-0, and 5:52 remained in the first quarter.
Halliday did a good job staying in the pocket and found Dom Williams for a 35-yard score midway through the second quarter, but then burped up a costly interception to linebacker Gionni Paul just as it appeared the Cougars might be driving for a touchdown to cut it to a one-score game.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org