Trojans slip past Cougars

USC served WSU its first loss of season in a close, scoring battle



Junior wide receiver Calvin Jackson Jr. turns away from an Eastern Washington player while rushing down the sideline in the game against Eastern Washington on Sept. 20 at Martin Stadium.

JACKSON GARDNER, Evergreen reporter

WSU football traded blows with the University of Southern California for 60 minutes, but ultimately it was the Trojans who would deal the final blow and seal a 39-36 victory over the Cougars on Friday night.

The Cougars had an opportunity to tie the game with just under two minutes, but redshirt freshman kicker Blake Mazza had his 38-yard field goal attempt blocked.

On the play prior to the field goal attempt, graduate transfer quarterback Gardner Minshew II checked out of a pass play on third down and six and instead handed the ball off to redshirt junior running back James Williams who was stuffed at the line of scrimmage.

“Well it was a play,” Head Coach Mike Leach said about what happened on the play prior to the blocked field goal. “I mean in hindsight I wish it was a different play, but in hindsight I wish a lot of plays were different.”

The shootout began early and ended late. USC would take the ball on the opening drive of the game and run down the field for 75 yards and a score.

It was not a pretty start for the Cougar defense that let USC’s sophomore running back Stephen Carr loose for a 50-yard rush on the third play of the game. The Trojans would cap off the five play 75-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown rush from redshirt sophomore running back Vavae Malepeai.

The Cougars would be forced to punt on their opening drive, but life would be shocked back into them. WSU would come up with a third down sack from sixth-year senior linebacker Peyton Pelluer to give the Cougars the ball back in USC territory following the punt.

WSU showed tremendous resilience on a 14-play 59-yard drive that the Cougars refused to let die, converting on a fourth-and-one play at midfield and then again on a third-and-one play in the red zone.

On the 14th play of the methodical drive, Williams would barrel his way into the end zone giving WSU its first lead of the game at 10-7.

It would be the first of three lead changes in the span of a little more than five minutes on the game clock.

The Trojans responded immediately on a quick 74-yard drive picking on junior cornerback Marcus Strong, once drawing a pass-interference call and then finally on a fade route to USC redshirt sophomore wide receiver Tyler Vaughns on the goal line for the touchdown that would give the Trojans the lead back at 14-10.

WSU would keep its composure on the ensuing drive going six plays for 75 yards ending with a touchdown from redshirt junior wide receiver Easop Winston Jr. Winston was heavily featured on the drive being on the receiving end of 64 of the 75 total yards on the drive.

On the following drive it would be the Cougars that ended the score-trading. USC’s redshirt senior center Toa Lobendahn would help the Cougars out with a botched snap that flew over the head of Trojans freshman quarterback JT Daniels and resulted in a loss of 17 yards setting up a second down and 27 that the Trojans would not recover from.

The Cougars would retake possession with six minutes left in the first half and 75 yards to travel. Minshew would beautifully orchestrate another scoring drive completing eight passes for 51 yards that included a 7-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Dezmon Patmon, the first touchdown reception of his career.

WSU would enter the second half with the same momentum that they went to the locker room with by marching down the field slowly but surely and finding the end zone with freshman running back Max Borghi.

Toward the end of Borghi’s 14-yard rush he was met at the end zone by two USC defenders but it would make no difference as Borghi trucked his way past both of them to advance the Cougars lead to 30-17.

USC would respond with its second three-play scoring drive of the evening on the back of a 50-yard catch-and-run from junior receiver Michael Pittman Jr. that would wind up in the end zone and bring the Trojans within six points of the Cougs.

After a full 10 minutes of a stagnant scoreboard, both teams would continue the shootout.

USC would be the team to finally put together another scoring drive. They would again throw over the head of Strong to freshman wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown for a 30-yard touchdown pass to give the Trojans a 31-30 lead.

Then WSU answered back with a scoring drive of its own off a 59-yard reception from Winston and then a 4-yard touchdown pass.

But prior to the touchdown pass, Leach rolled the dice going for it on fourth-and-one with an easy chip shot field goal in his pocket and Minshew was able to pick up the yards necessary to keep the drive alive. However, the Cougars failed on a two-point conversion attempt, leaving the score at 36-31 in favor of WSU.

The Trojans would take advantage of a short kickoff and take it right down the field on five plays retaking the lead once again on Malepeai’s second touchdown of the night and then completing their two-point conversion to give themselves a three-point cushion at 39-36.

When the Cougars following drive went south, their defense would give them a second chance. WSU then had an opportunity to tie the game at 39 after going 53 yards to set up a field goal, but a USC defender would block the kick and the Cougars chances of handing USC its second loss to WSU in as many seasons.

“We just weren’t making plays when they were there,” senior nickel back Hunter Dale said. “We could’ve made a lot of plays tonight, they were making them, and we weren’t. They were getting the ball and we weren’t. We just didn’t capitalize when we should’ve.”

The Cougars look to bounce back from their first loss of the season when they face University of Utah 3 p.m. Saturday at Martin Stadium.