Cougs claw past Golden Bears

WSU starts 8-1 for first time since 2002 after 19-13 win over University of California, Berkeley, on Saturday



Quarterback Gardner Minshew II looks for an open receiver and ends up running the ball for a first down against California on Saturday night at Martin Stadium.

JOHN SPELLMAN, Evergreen reporter

No. 8 WSU football defeated University of California, Berkeley, 19-13 Saturday night in a game that was decided in the final minute.

Quarterback Gardner Minshew II found redshirt junior wide receiver Easop Winston Jr. in the back of the end zone with 32 seconds remaining for the game winning 10-yard touchdown.

WSU (8-1, 5-1) had only won two of its last 13 meetings against Cal prior to its narrow victory over the Golden Bears (5-4, 2-4) on Saturday.

Head Coach Mike Leach said the Cougars knew they would face a challenge against the Bears, especially after Cal pulled off an upset win over University of Washington on Oct. 27.

“Cal is a really good team,” Leach said. “They are a team that is emerging as the season has gone on and they are playing as good as anybody. We knew it was going to be a war with them.”

The Cougars were able to get some points on the board on their first drive, courtesy of a 29-yard field goal from redshirt freshman kicker Blake Mazza to give WSU the early 3-0 lead.

The Golden Bears then drove down the field fairly easily, however, their redshirt-junior kicker Greg Thomas missed a 47-yard field goal to preserve the three-point lead for WSU.

The next two offensive drives for WSU were ineffective, with the first one resulting in a turnover on downs and the next one ending with an interception thrown by Minshew.

Unfortunately, that interception proved to be costly for the Cougars as it gave the Golden Bears great field position in WSU territory. Cal took a 7-3 lead on a two-yard touchdown pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Chase Garbers to senior fullback Malik McMorris.

However, the Cougars responded in spectacular fashion of their own by driving down the field as Minshew carved up Cal’s stout passing defense. Freshman running back Max Borghi gave the Cougars a 10-7 lead on a five-yard touchdown run.

The Bears were able to tie up the game at 10 with 36 seconds remaining in the first half with a 42-yard field goal from Thomas.

The Cougars were able to drive right back down the field though, aided by a 49-yard kickoff return from redshirt freshman wide receiver Travell Harris. Mazza would give the Cougs a 13-10 lead with one second remaining before halftime by converting a 36-yard field goal.

The second half went back and forth between these two Pac-12 North division foes, with both teams in position to win.

The first big opportunity came with six minutes remaining in the third quarter when Garbers threw an interception to WSU redshirt freshman rush linebacker Willie Taylor III. Taylor returned the ball all the way down to the Cal 2-yard line before fumbling the ball out of the back of the end zone, resulting in a touchback and Cal keeping possession of the ball.

WSU held on to its 13-10 lead before the Golden Bears tied the score on the ensuing possession when Thomas nailed a 46-yard field goal to even the game at 13.

The next WSU drive ended in a punt, giving Cal the ball with 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Cougars made some key third down stops, however, defensive penalties derailed WSU all game long. With 10 minutes left, WSU’s defensive penalties had put Cal in position to score more points.

With seven and a half minutes left and the ball on the WSU 12-yard line, Cal redshirt sophomore quarterback Brandon McIlwain threw a costly interception inside the red zone to redshirt sophomore safety Skylar Thomas who fell out of bounds afterwards to give the Cougars the ball on their own 25 yard line.

Minshew and the Cougar offense found themselves in position to win the game by scoring late in the fourth quarter. Great throws from Minshew, combined with nice runs from redshirt junior running back James Williams and Borghi, made it look like the Cougars were prime to score and put away the game.

However, with 3:30 left in the fourth quarter, Mazza missed a 30-yard field goal that would have given WSU the lead.

Despite that, the WSU defense came up with another stop with 2:39 remaining in regulation, forcing Cal to punt.

This time, the Cougars would not squander their opportunity to win the game. Minshew threw two huge passes, the first one being a 23 yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Jamire Calvin. The next one a completion to Winston Jr. that put the ball on the Cal 10-yard line.

With 32 seconds left, Minshew found Winston Jr. open in the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown. However, the Cougars would only get six point because the extra point was missed due to a bad snap.

WSU led 19-13 in the final seconds of the game, but with only a six-point lead the door was open for Cal to pull off the upset.

The Golden Bears had one last chance to drive down the field quickly, but the Cougar defense slammed the door shut on them to give the Cougars the win and give the team an 8-1 record for the first time since 2002 in front of a sold out crowd at Martin Stadium for Dad’s Weekend.

Despite a relatively quiet night from Minshew, throwing for 334 yards with one touchdown and one interception, the WSU defense picked up its game. Even with a plethora of penalties called against them, the defense found a way to give the Cougars a chance to win.

“You’ll take a win any way that we can get it,” Minshew said. “Obviously, we have a standard that’s higher than what we played at tonight, but it was great to see at different times of the game, each phase step up … and then we finally came around and scored when we really needed to.”

The Cougars now look to keep the momentum rolling on the road as they travel to face the University of Colorado, Boulder, at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.