Cougs win third straight

WSU comes back from 13-0 deficit to defeat Stanford



WSU running back Max Borghi (21) scores a touchdown during a college football game, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Martin Stadium in Pullman.

AARIK LONG, Evergreen reporter

After a rough start to 2021, the Cougs have seemingly turned things around, growing their win streak to three straight with a win against the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday.

“Win or loss, you gotta learn,” running back Max Borghi said.

And learn this Cougar team has certainly done so far this season.

WSU wide receiver De’Zhuan Stribling (88) runs towards the endzone during the first half of a college football game, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Martin Stadium in Pullman.

The story of the game was certainly the backfield duo of Borghi and quarterback Jayden de Laura. The pair combined to score all five touchdowns for the Cougars on their way to a thrilling 34-31 victory on the Palouse.

“They’ve got confidence,” head coach Nick Rolovich said. “They’ve got confidence in each other.”

There was an air of uncertainty surrounding the whole game, with Rolovich’s deadline to meet requirements for the state’s vaccine mandate rapidly approaching. However, this did not seem to distract the players on the field.

“He’s a players coach,” wide receiver Travell Harris said. “He truly understands us as players. He’s an outstanding coach. He’s a coach that we all love to play for.”

Stanford would receive the opening kickoff to get the festivities going inside of Martin Stadium. After a handful of plays resulting in small gains, Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee found Bryce Farrell for 16 yards.

Two plays later, following an attempt to keep the ball on the ground, McKee took to the air once again. This time, the quarterback found Benjamin Yurosek. The receiver hauled the pass in at the WSU 27-yard line, 17 yards from the line of scrimmage. Yurosek turned upfield and found a seem, running nearly untouched into the end zone to give the Cardinal a 7-0 lead early. 

The opening drive for the Cougs did not go as well with WSU being forced to punt it back to the Cardinal.

On the subsequent sequence for the Cardinal, the Coug defense was able to step up and make a stand, despite giving up points. Stanford started with the ball already in WSU territory. Stanford would gain 15 yards on four plays before giving the responsibility to their kicker, Joshua Karty. He would extend the Cardinal lead to 10-0 with a 51-yard field goal, a career-long for the sophomore.

The next drive for WSU went even worse than the first with WSU going three-and-out and giving the ball right back to a Stanford team who was putting points up at will. 

Stanford would once again start in WSU territory and would once again come away with points. But the defense stood tall again, not allowing the Cardinal to find pay dirt and forcing them to settle for a field goal. Karty would hit from 32 yards out to make it a 13-0 lead. That is where the score would stay to end the first quarter.

There would be a negative from that drive, however, as Jahad Woods would make helmet-to-helmet contact with Stanford’s Elijah Higgins on the first play of the drive. Woods would be ejected on the targeting penalty. Luckily for Cougar fans, the penalty came in the first half, meaning Woods will not miss any time in next weekend’s meeting with BYU. 

The slow start for WSU was in large part due to penalties early. In the first quarter, the Cougs were penalized three times for a total of 35 yards.

WSU quarterback Jayden de Laura (4) celebrates a win after a college football game, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Martin Stadium in Pullman.

On the opening drive of the second quarter, WSU finally seemed to get the offense going. Borghi started things off with runs of 25 and 13 yards. Things seemed like they might cool off following an Abraham Lucas false start, but just two plays later Harris would find a soft spot in the coverage and de Laura would find Harris. Dean Janikowski hit the extra point and the Cougs had trimmed the deficit down to 13-7.

Harris would rack up 107 all-purpose yards in the game, bringing him up to fifth-most in WSU history with 3,662.

The Cardinal would go three-and-out their next time around, giving the ball back to de Laura and the Cougs.

Borghi and de Laura strung together a couple of good rushes, including a crucial 7-yard scramble from the quarterback to keep the drive going. One play after that drive-saving play, the Cardinal brought the blitz. 

As Thomas Booker got into the backfield and delivered a hit on de Laura, the quarterback let one fly, finding Calvin Jackson Jr. in stride at the 2-yard line. The receiver had an easy stroll to the end zone from there. Janikowski’s extra point was blocked by the Cardinal, but the Cougs had tied the game up at 13.

The next drives would see the Cougs and the Cardinal exchange possessions a couple of times. On a Stanford possession that started at their own 9-yard line, the Cougs found their spark of momentum on defense. 

McKee would hand the ball off to Nathaniel Peat on first down. The defense converged for WSU and Ahmir Crowder was able to punch the ball free. Chris Jackson would recover the fumble at the 10-yard line for WSU.

Then, on the first play of the new drive, de Laura would drop back and find De’Zhaun Stribling sitting just under one of the defense’s zones at the 6-yard line. Stribling would catch the ball and turn upfield while angling toward the sideline. Stribling would scamper in untouched for the 10-yard touchdown. The play put the Cougs in front for the first time all game, 20-13.

Stanford running back Austin Jones (20) evades WSU linebacker Justus Rogers (37) during the first half of a college football game, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Martin Stadium in Pullman.

Stanford got the ball back at their own 25-yard line with three minutes to go in the first half. On an eight-play, 62-yard drive, the Cardinal managed to eat all but 39 seconds and set Karty up for a 31-yard field goal that he hit to cut the WSU lead to 20-16 at halftime.

WSU’s opening drive of the second half saw the Cougs march deep into Stanford territory. The drive would ultimately come to an end when WSU came up short on a fourth-down attempt at the Stanford 23-yard line.

The Cougar defense would hold strong though, forcing a punt from the Cardinal. 

WSU would find success through the air on their next drive, with de Laura hitting Harris for a 23-yard gain and Lincoln Victor for a 25-yard gain on consecutive plays. Victor’s catch nearly resulted in a touchdown with the receiver diving to the end zone but being pushed out just a couple of yards shy of the score.

The Cougs would hand it off to Victor one time down near the goal line with the receiver being stopped short. On second and goal, Borghi’s number was called. The running back would hit the B-gap on the left side and would bound into the end zone to extend the WSU lead to 27-16, which is where it would stay as the third quarter wrapped up.

The Cardinal’s next drive would begin in the third quarter and end in the fourth quarter. It would also end in the end zone with McKee running a quarterback sneak up the middle. The Cardinal would go for two. Their first attempt was stopped, but the Cougs had 12 men on the field. On their second attempt, the Cardinal would run a read option. McKee read the defense perfectly, keeping it himself and earning his squad two more points to make it a 27-24 game. 

WSU’s next drive would go three-and-out, but a good punt from Nick Haberer in addition to a holding penalty on the Cardinal put Stanford back at their own 15-yard line.

It did not matter much to Stanford, as the Cardinal offense put together an 11-play, 85-yard drive. The drive would be capped off with an 8-yard play-action pass to running back Austin Jones, who made a great play to break two tackles on his way to the end zone. The touchdown gave the Cardinal a 31-27 lead.

WSU’s next possession was another three-and-out, their third of the game and second in a row. The defense was able to step up and make a play, however, in large part due to Brennan Jackson’s sack on third and six to force the Cardinal to punt.

The sack got most of the crowd on their feet. WSU’s first play on the next drive got anyone still sitting up on their feet as well. De Laura was able to find Jackson down the right sideline for a 41-yard gain. Jackson was in double coverage, but it did not matter to de Laura.

WSU wide receiver Calvin Jackson Jr. (8) and quarterback Jayden de Laura (4) watch the game from the sideline during the second half of a college football game, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Martin Stadium in Pullman.

Four plays later, de Laura came up big again, this time finding Stribling on the left sideline. The play gained 17 yards and got WSU just 2 yards away from a lead.

On first and goal with less than two minutes to go and your team needing a touchdown, there is only one man the Cougs could look to. De Laura took the snap, handed it off to Borghi and let the Colorado-born senior do his thing. 

And do his thing he did. Borghi spun off of one defender before diving to the end zone and just barely breaking the plane to go up 34-31 with 1:30 to go in the game. 

The rushing touchdown was the 25th of Borghi’s collegiate career. With his two touchdowns, the running back passed Rueben Mayes and tied Jerome Harrison for second-most in Cougar football history. 

“At the end of the day, I’m real happy with where I’m at,” Borghi said. 

On Stanford’s first play of the penultimate possession, Ron Stone Jr. got into the backfield to record a sack. McKee was able to rush for four yards back on the next play, setting up a crucial third and 13.

Enter Brennan Jackson. Quinn Roff was actually the one to record the strip-sack on McKee, but all anyone will remember is the scene of Jackson diving on the ball to recover it before standing up with it and running to the WSU sideline in celebration. The redshirt junior had clinched the Cougs third-straight win and fifth-straight win against Stanford.

“I think the edges have played well all year,” Rolovich said. “When they get in those kind of situations, they know they can go and win the game.”

WSU wide receiver Joey Hobert (12) pumps up the crowd during a college football game, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at Martin Stadium in Pullman.

Jackson would be named Pac-12 defensive lineman of the week for the second time in 2021.

All that was left was one kneel down for de Laura and the Cougars walked out of Martin Stadium with a huge 34-31 victory.

Rolovich was able to summarize how this team has bounced back almost perfectly during his press conference.

“At a certain point you’re going to get tired of getting punched in the face and you’ll punch back,” Rolovich said.