“I wish I was in there celebrating with my teammates right now, there’s just a really good energy in there.”
– Washington State quarterback Luke Falk following Saturday’s game.
Eight straight games Washington State had dropped to Oregon. They hadn’t won in Eugene in a dozen years. But that didn’t matter to the Cougars, all of whom refused to acknowledge the past losses when asked about it after Saturday’s game.
“We forgot about last year and we’re focused on this year,” said Falk.
“This is a completely different team — I don’t think anybody thought about that [the losing streak] at all,” added linebacker Parker Henry.
“We never discussed it [the losing streak to Oregon], we just looked at it as an opportunity to go out there and make some plays,” said wide receiver Gabe Marks.
The players may have said the losing streak didn’t matter, but the reactions of their teammates away from the podium said the opposite. The entire Washington State contingent, from players and coaches to equipment guys and family were in a state of jubilation. I lost count of the number of full body hugs I witnessed.
Much like Oregon’s game against Utah, Washington State rolled out a significant number of players to the podium post-game, all of whom presented a unified message of a team confident about its chances in against Oregon.
“We played a full game tonight, and we won, and if we do that every game, we’ll be a tough team to beat,” added Marks.
“We’ve been playing everybody so close … it’s about time we figured out a way to come out on top. I was proud of our guys, thought they were tough and hung in there, and we outpunched them in the end,” said head coach Mike Leach.
Knowing that they were capable of winning if they could finish a game had many Cougars confident, despite being down by 10 points in the fourth quarter.
“We were just focused on doing our jobs and not worried about the score,” said Falk.
Some, however, were surprised by the way Washington State climbed back into the game by kicking a field goal down 10 with less than four minutes remaining.
“Was I a little surprised? Honestly, yeah. It’s different, usually we go for it a lot, so he [Leach] kicks the ball when you least expect it,” said Marks.
If the decision felt surprising, it was tough for Leach himself.
“It was a little bit difficult [to kick a field goal]. I always feel a sense of failure on field goals. I knew we had to score twice and felt like it would give us time to do it,” said Leach.
Down only a touchdown with less than two minutes remaining, Washington State felt good about its chances to tie the game.
“I knew we had enough time. I didn’t think time was as big of a deal. We’d moved the ball the whole game. We just hadn’t done it consistently, and all of a sudden there’d be a mishap. The bigger concern was that we’d finish the drive and not stop ourselves,” said Leach.
The Cougars did, eventually prevailing in double overtime, the first ever in most Cougars’ careers. It was a win that many of the players — including running back Jamal Morrow — felt could change the season.
“Once we get some momentum going on, we’re going to be a force to reckon with in the Pac[-12],” said Morrow.
In the end, Leach addressed the achievement of the victory while keeping the team focused on the task at hand.
“This is the kind of win that you can think about for about 15 hours, and then you can forget about it until you tell your grandchildren, and focus a whole lot on Oregon State. That’s what kind of win I think this is.”
Top image by Kevin Cline.