The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

Cougs roll Northern Colorado in preparation for Pac-12 gauntlet

WSU used their final non-conference game to get the whole team tuned up
WSU receiver Lincoln Victor celebrates scoring a touchdown with lineman Ma’ake Fifita in an NCAA football game against Northern Colorado Sept. 16, 2023 at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash.

Following a rank-earning victory over Wisconsin, the Cougs had fun against the Bears of Northern Colorado Saturday, winning 64-21. The win saw dominance from the first team through the team as 18 players made their WSU debut.

The Cougs locked the game up early and used the opportunity to get the second and third teamers some valuable game reps. That only happens though with the starters taking care of business, head coach Jake Dickert said.

“Really proud of our starters coming in there and playing in a mature way. A focused and energetic way, disciplined way,” Dickert said. “We went out there and we executed really really well in that first half and we did what I thought good teams do and come in there and set the standard for how you want to play offense, defense and special teams.”

The starters only played the first half of the game, with the third unit coming out in the late fourth quarter. The reps provided experience critical to their development and spoke to the team’s depth.

“It’s huge, it’s totally different than practice. Practice is all scripted and everybody knows what’s gonna happen,” WSU quarterback John Mateer said. “It’s really important, it builds confidence, it builds character and it’s great.”

There was not much of a dropoff once the starters began to filter out. In fact, some of the biggest stat lines came from backups like running back Dylan Paine, fellow back Djouvensky Schlenbaker and Mateer.

Dickert said the key is that nobody on the team takes competing for granted, and no matter who is out there, they have to respect the process of winning.

The Cougs blew out of the gates going on a 10-play, 75-yard on which quarterback Cam Ward ran for an eight-yard touchdown. The final decision on the drive, however, was an example of the aggressiveness of the Cougar offense as receiver Lincoln Victor threw a pass to tight end Billy Reviere III for a two-point conversion, making it 8-0.

WSU scored touchdowns on their first six drives of the first half, taking a 22-0 lead into the second quarter, and a 43-7 lead into the half. Ward completed 20 of 26 passes for 327 yards and four touchdowns. 

The biggest highlight was an 18-yard endzone fade Ward floated in Kelly’s direction. The defensive back had inside position but Kelly jumped past the defender to make a miraculous catch that could be on a segment of ‘Mossed.’

In a hilarious moment, receiver Kyle Williams snuck into the post-game press conference to ask Kelly what was going through his mind on the catch, mentioning that the team’s nickname for Kelly is the ‘head-tap king.’

“Anytime the ball’s in the air, even if it’s a basic catch, I try to make it spectacular. So I mean, the ball was a little high. You know, God gave me the ability to jump a little bit so you know, use my God-given ability,” Kelly said.

Victor had six more catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns and fellow receiver Josh Kelly had five catches for 74 yards and a touchdown. Running back Nakia Watson also averaged 4.6 yards per carry on nine rushes with a touchdown as well.

Mateer started the third quarter leading a seven-play, 93-yard touchdown drive ending in Mateer hitting receiver Josh Meredith for a 15-yard touchdown, the first of his career. Mateer would lead three drives in the half, all ending in touchdowns. 

The second drive was capped by a 62-yard touchdown pass to wideout Tsion Nunnally, his first catch of the season and first career touchdown. Then Paine opened the third drive of the half with a 52-yard run, a career-long, before finishing the drive with his first career rushing touchdown, a one-yard score.

That sequence made the score 64-14, as UNC would add one more late score against the Cougs third-team defense. Mateer was seven-for-eight with 138 yards and two touchdowns. The performance of the second team was stellar, and just what the Cougs needed to bury the hatchet.

“Tsion Nunnally, who made a big play, he’s gonna have to play. So John came in and was really really sharp in his series and really proud of that second group coming in and running the ball. That’s what we’ve been looking for,” Dickert said.

All in all, all three active WSU QBs threw a pass, eight Cougs got a carry and 12 different players caught a pass. Kicker Dean Janikowski attempted no field goals and was eight-for-eight on extra points, and punter Nick Haberer punted once.

The Cougar defense did not force a turnover or score a touchdown for the first time this season but recorded two sacks. Sixth-year edge-rushers Brennan Jackson and Ron Stone Jr. both recorded one sack. For Stone, it was his third of the year, already one more than 2022.

The Cougs outgained UNC 718 to 366 and ran for a season-high 239 yards. The Cougs exited the game fairly healthy but lost starting guard Ma’ake Fifita to an undisclosed injury. Watson also left the game but it “sounds like he’s gonna be just fine,” Dickert said. 

There are plenty of positives that come out of a dominating win like this, especially as the Cougs prepare for another ranked opponent next week. While there are always improvements to be made, the Cougs got a massive shot of confidence from Saturday’s performance.

“It fills [our confidence] up tremendously. Especially going into the week that we’re going into. Finna start Pac-12 play. You know how big this game was, and you know, just seeing everybody eat man, it just gravitated us together,” Kelly said.

The experience is critical going into league play against a conference that went into the week with a nation-high eight ranked teams. And it kicks off next week against then-No.16 Oregon State. Despite the big challenge ahead, the Cougs are confident and will keep taking it week-by-week, Dickert said.

“We got a bunch of mature guys that want to win. They’ve been working hard since January to really build the team and I’ve said this before that we’ve quietly built a good team,” Dickert said. “We get an opportunity each week to show who we are. The all we got all we need saying really just shows in everything that you do. Pac-12 play will be no different.”

The Cougs and Beavers will play at 4 p.m. Saturday in a matchup of the final two Pac-12 teams past 2023. WSU exits week three in mid-season form, with a chance to keep shocking everyone.

More to Discover
About the Contributors
LUKE WESTFALL, Evergreen sports co-editor
Luke Westfall is a junior in Broadcast News from Custer, WA. He is an avid fanatic of the many sports at many levels who spends all his available time indulging in them. Luke began working at the Evergreen in Spring 2022.
BRANDON WILLMAN, Multimedia editor
Brandon Willman is a junior multimedia journalism student from Vancouver, Washington. He started working as a sportswriter for the Daily Evergreen in Fall 2022 and worked as copy editor in spring 2023. Brandon was elected to be the Editor-in-chief starting in summer 2023 and served in the position from May 2023 to February 2024 before transitioning to the role of multimedia editor. He enjoys watching sports, backpacking, and watching horror movies.