Cougars fall short in season opener

Chris Shaw, Evergreen football reporter

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Turnovers and missed opportunities characterized the Cougars’ play in their first game of the 2013 football season. Quarterback Connor Halliday threw three interceptions and couldn’t lead the team down the field at the end of the game, allowing Auburn to win 31-24 on Saturday night in Alabama.

“I think the biggest thing that plagued us was turnovers, explosives and a few intangibles,” Head Coach Mike Leach said. “I’m really proud of the effort. We just need to polish up and be sharper.”

Halliday had two chances at the end of the game to lead the Cougars into the end zone, but he and the team squandered both. With less than five minutes left in the game, Halliday and the offense lined up on first and goal looking to tie the game at 31. Instead, Halliday threw to the right side of the end zone into double coverage and junior defensive back Robenson Therezie intercepted his second pass of the game.

Then Halliday had another chance to tie the game when the Cougar defense forced junior running back Tre Mason to fumble at the 50-yard line. Teondray Caldwell converted a fourth-and-five situation to bring the Cougars to the Auburn 32-yard line. Halliday only managed to complete one pass on the next set of downs, causing the Cougars to turn the ball over on downs and turning the game over to the Tigers.

“We moved the ball on them all night,” Halliday said about Auburn’s defense. “The only time we got stopped was when we stopped ourselves, turning the ball over; mental mistakes. They’re talented, but we outgained them by 100-some yards. They let up damn near 500 yards of offense so they didn’t play that great.”

Despite the confidence Halliday had in his offense, he said the loss was on his shoulders because he turned the ball over.

The Cougars opened the game with a strong drive, marching down the field on a 12-play drive that culminated in a 4-yard rushing touchdown, by redshirt sophomore running back Jeremiah Laufasa. That was not the last time Laufasa saw the end zone on Saturday, though. He scored again in another goal line situation in the second quarter, giving the Cougars a 21-15 lead.

Despite Halliday’s 344 yards passing in 65 attempts, WSU got into the end zone from their rushing attack rather than passing.

However, Auburn always seemed to have an answer for the Air Raid and the ground game. While it took the Tigers until their third drive of the game to get on the board, they did more than just match the Cougars’ touchdown. Auburn decided to go for two and converted it to take the lead 8-7.

WSU jumped right back on top after Halliday’s only touchdown pass of the game, a 7-yard completion to Bobby Ratliff, who had 66 yards receiving in the game. Gabe Marks led the team with 81 receiving yards.

This time, Auburn didn’t wait so long. On the ensuing kickoff, Mason returned the ball 100 yards for a score, putting the Tigers ahead 15-14.

After Laufasa’s second touchdown of the game on the Cougars’ next drive, Auburn countered again. Junior Corey Grant ran the ball on the first play of the drive, after a touchback, and went 75 yards for the score, making it 22-21.

The Tigers had a net total of 297 yards rushing to go along with new quarterback Nick Marshall’s 99 yards passing. Marshall did not get intercepted once.

For the rest of the game, Auburn’s kicker Cody Parkey hit three field goals while the Cougars only got close enough once to call upon Andrew Furney, who made a 43-yard field goal in the third quarter. That third quarter kick was the last time WSU scored in the game.

The Cougars will go on the road again this week to face the USC Trojans in California in a Pac-12 Conference matchup.