Seniors shine, WSU clinches bowl eligibility with blow out win

Washington State (6-5, 5-3) clinched its sixth consecutive (full season) bowl game with the 44-18 win over Arizona (1-10, 1-7) in a fog and sleet covered game at Gesa Field in Pullman, Wash. Max Borghi finished out his final home game in crimson and grey with 139 yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns; he wasn’t the only senior to shine as both the senior wideouts had massive games and multiple seniors came up with huge stops.

After Borghi’s second touchdown of the game, Arizona picked up four yards on two runs. And then Will Plummer missed on a play action pass down the side line on what was a completely ineffective drive for the Wildcats. Joey Hobert blocked the Wildcats’ punt and recovered the loose ball in the end zone to make it 30-7.

Deon McIntosh got the first carry after the kick off and picked up a huge carry to get the ball into plus territory. It was a brilliant scramble by de Laura on the next play, and a dropped panic pass by McIntosh, that prevented a huge loss when Arizona generated a ton of pressure. Third down came as a result of a run right into the teeth of the Wildcats’ defense.

On third and 11 the Cougs hit the dagger with a gorgeous play action fake to Deon McIntosh and then Jayden de Laura hit Travell Harris in stride down the side line to make it 37-7.

With the deficit now at 30, Zona took the field and attempted to take a shot down field on second down — Daniel Isom got hurt on the first down play. Jaylen Watson got flagged for PI on the play which handed the Wildcats the first down. Arizona was determined to run in the second half and the Cougar defense had clearly adapted because the Wildcats had far less running lanes than they did in the first half. The Wildcats ran a screen pass to make it fourth and eight; a beautiful crossing route led to a first down to extend the drive.

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On first down, Plummer took a shot down the side line which was too far out of bounds for the wideout to make a play on it. The fullback picked up a couple of yards on second down which made it third and seven. It was an incomplete pass that made it fourth and seven. Arizona elected to kicked the 42-yard field goal to get some more points on the board; the kick was good and it was a 37-10 WSU lead.

With the heavy fog, Washington State needed to score. Borghi picked up six yards on first down; but de Laura was sacked on second down for a loss of 15. On third down, Borghi was hit on check down pass and appeared to take it 85-yards to the house; but the review overturned the call when it became clear he was down six yards short of the line of gain — his elbow hit the turf. Despite an offsides penalty, WSU still had to punt on fourth and one.

A pass out to Dorian Singer in the flat was caught to pick up the first down as the third quarter expired. It came after a six yard run to make it second and manageable.

At the start of the fourth quarter Zona hit Jaylen John out in the flat for a yard gain. It was a similar play on second down that led to third and eight before WSU took a timeout. The timeout didn’t help as the check down for Michael Wiley led to a 19-yard gain; then a 16-yard gain on a pass to Stanley Berryhill III. It was a series of poor tackling by the Cougar defense as the next first down play went for five yards. A dropped pass on second down led to third and five. Washington State’s defense forced an incomplete pass with pressure from its edge rushers to force fourth and five; it became the second fourth down TD the defense gave up as Wiley ran around the Cougar defense from the flat to cut the WSU lead to 19 after the successful two-point conversion — 37-18 Washington State.

McIntosh was the back in at the start of the drive and he was forced out of bounds after only a two-yard gain to stop the clock. Fortunately a creative play action pass off the RPO to Harris resulted in first down to allow extend the drive. After a stuffed run okay on first down, de Laura took a shot to Donovan Ollie but it was incomplete which led to third and 16 with a stopped clock. The run play that followed that up was stuffed to force a Washington State punt.

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Plummer had back-to-back passes broken up by an aggressive pass rush from the edge rushers to force third and ten. The third down play was broken up by Armani Marsh. On fourth down, Arizona surrender punted.

The offense came out firing down field as de Laura wanted to hit De’Zhaun Stribbling but the pass was a little off target. On the very next play the quarterback sucked the safety in on a play action fake in the fog than hit Calvin Jackson Jr. for a 78-yard touchdown to make it 44-18, Cougars.

Arizona’s offense was ineffective down the stretch as the Cougars burned the clock on their way to the blowout win. Jahad Woods even joined in on the seniors’ party as he picked off Plummer.

The Wildcats got the opening kick off out half time. Plummer hit his tight end to pick up the first down in a beautiful naked boot on second down (after the first down was a stuffed run). A fumbled snap, in the fog, was the follow up play and Plummer just dropped on it to make it second and 17. That was followed up by a throw out bounds as the fog clearly began to effect performance on the field. On the next play, the Wildcats just picked up yardage before the punt.

Borghi got carry on the first play of the Cougar drive and he turned it into a 13-yard gain. Jackson Jr. was then hit for a 12-yard gain on a quick route to pick up WSU’s second consecutive first down. A 43-yard run by the super senior running back ended just short of the goal line after he bounced it outside of the tackle.

They kept feeding Borghi on the next two plays, but Arizona’s defense stuffed each one. On third down the Cougs ran an option and de Laura pitched it out to Borghi for his second touchdown or the night. After the kick the Cougar lead was 28-7 with 10:07 left in the third quarter.

Arizona was unable to get out of bounds on the first play from scrimmage after that touchdown, which are valuable time off the clock. Plummer was then forced to check down and the tailback got out of bounds. On the next play, he missed Curry and the Wildcats were forced to punt.

Washington State was going for the dagger heading into the half as they tried to take a shot down field on their next possession. It didn’t work so the Cougars took the knee to close out the half with a 14-point half time lead.

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After the touchback on the kickoff, the Cougs took over at the 25 with 2:22 left in the half. McIntosh ripped off a 38-yard run that saw him step out of bounds to stop the clock in plus territory. Jackson Jr. was hit for a 43-yard touchdown pass on an absolute dime from de Laura to push the lead back to two touchdowns at 21-7.

Down by two touchdowns, the Wildcats got the ball at the 10-yard line with 4:21 left. Anderson broke off a 71-yard run down the middle of the field to get the Wildcats into the red zone for the first time of the game. Plummer took a shot at the end zone on the next play but it was incomplete. A conservative rush up the middle led to third and 11; Plummer was forced to scramble but he was short of the line of gain. It forced the Wildcats to go for it on fourth and two, down by two touchdowns.

Plummer took a shot at the end zone and found Boobie Curry for the 11-yard touchdown to cut the Cougar lead in half at 7-14.

Plummer started off Arizona’s first drive after the Cougar touchdown with a low pass that bounced off the turf. On second and ten, a run was stuffed by the Cougs which forced third and nine. Which quickly became third and 14 after a false start; it was a beautiful called screen pass into the teeth of a Cougar blitz that led to a 20-yard pick up for Wiley. A late hit tacked on another 15-yards onto the catch.

The first down was quickly followed up by a seven-yard completion from Plummer to Casteel. Arizona picked up the first down on a five-yard scamper ip the middle for Anderson. This was followed up by a shot towards the end zone that was nearly picked, a run, and a sack on a blitz to take the Wildcats out of field goal range.

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In the end, the sack didn’t matter as Plummer’s arm got the Wildcats the first down. Another shot at the end zone came up empty as Singer couldn’t get his foot down on a play that was blown dead anyway. Singer dropped the first and 15 pass play.

After the whiffed passes, a pair of conservative run calls only resulted in a gain of two-yards for Zona. On third and 13, UA was forced to use a timeout as the clock expired. Plummer scrambled when no one was opened, his stiff arm didn’t help the Cats pick up the first down. Arizona missed the 50-yard attempt wide right and the Cougars got the ball back with a one touchdown lead.

Washington State’s first play of its next drive resulted in no gain as de Laura hit Jackson on a floater in the face of a blitz. McIntosh’s first carry went for no gain. When there was no play through available, de Laura scrambled hit came up short of the first down which meant that Dickert sent the punt team out in out as time expired in the first quarter.

After the WSU punt, the Wildcats stuck to the ground game as they ran it on three of their next first plays. The first one went for 10, the second okay was an incomplete pass and the third went for five, the fourth was for no gain. A pair of incomplete passes led the another three and out.

It was a conservative run play between the tackles that started off the next Washington State drive. That was followed up by a broken play where de Laura was forced out of the pocket but he found Stribbling at the side line for a 14-yard game — which was confirmed on the review. On the next play, a holding call negated a scramble from de Laura (that would have led to a loss of three anyway); but Washington State got to replay the down.

McIntosh picked up a bunch of those yards, from the penalty, on the draw play. On second and 11 the Cougs ran it right up the middle again to make it third and six. A wide receiver screen was blown-up and the pass was swatted away. That led to another punt for WSU.

A quick pass on the first play from scrimmage got Arizona a first down. But a pair of runs led to a nearly lost fumbled on the second one. Plummer had all day off of the play action pass but his pass hit the turf before it could get to his target to make it third and 12. While Plummer tried to pick-up the first down with his legs, the Cougar defense quickly took all the lanes away and he was forced to step out of bounds. It led to the Wildcats third punt of the game.

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Washington State got the ball back after an illegal formation led to a second punt for the Wildcats — the second punt was tipped. The first play from scrimmage was a shot downfield that saw hand fighting between Stribbling and his defender before the pass hit the turf. Borghi immediately established his presence back in the game with a 16-yard scamper up the left hash. That run was followed up with a beautiful seem route by Harris and an absolute dime by de Laura for a 32-yard gain.

With the pocket collapsing around him on the next play, de Laura picked up nine-yards with his legs. Borghi got the next couple of carries for a total of four-yards and the first down. It turned into a touchdown on an out route where de Laura hit Harris near the “W” in the end zone to make it 14-0 WSU.

The Cougars elected to receive the opening kick. Borghi got the ball for the first play from scrimmage and he picked up a couple of yards; the game’s first injury came on the play. While a false start made it second and 13, a four yard pickup made it third and nine. Unfortunately the Cougs were unable to pick up the first down as a blitz forced de Laura out of the pocket and his pass missed his target near the line of gain.

John got the first carry of the game for the Wildcats as he picked up eight yards. The next play was a handoff to the fullback, Markoff, he rumbled up the middle for 15 and the first down. Washington State’s defense stopped John after a two yard gain to force second and long; which led to third and three. Arizona was only able to pick up two before it went for on fourth and one. A quarterback keeper by Plummer was stuffed short of the line of gain which got the ball back to the Cougar offense.

Borghi was use heavily in the early part of the next drive, as he carried the ball on two of the first three plays. This sequence included a 14-yard run on an option pitch that was brilliantly read by de Laura. After that big run, the Cougars threw it twice. The first pass was incomplete and then Harris caught a nine-yard slant to make it third and one. On the next play, the super senior running back picked up the first down.

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The sophomore quarterback missed his wideout in the corner of the end zone by a hair on the next play from scrimmage. A false start pushed the offense back to make it second and 15. It ended up not mattering as Borghi took off for a 26-yard touchdown on a beautifully called draw play that caught the Wildcats napping to make it 7-0 Washington State after the point after.

Post game thoughts

  • After the horrible mismanagement of the quarterback situation cost WSU the Utah State game, and the Cougars dropped three of their first four, it seemed like this season was a lost cause with a lame duck at head coach. Despite Nick Rolovich’s (rightful) firing, the Cougars have won five of their last seven heading into the Apple Cup and are headed to a bowl game. That is one hell of an accomplishment and makes this an insanely special season.
  • This senior class has been through hell and back, yet they’re going to exit as among the winningest groups of athletes in program history with more bowl appearances under their belt than any other class. I’m gonna miss these guys a whole hell of a lot.
  • Jake Dickert deserves a lot of credit for keeping this program on the rails despite the upheaval. Getting this team to a bowl game is huge…does it mean he deserve to have the interim tag removed from his title? We’ll see…
  • The quarterback couldn’t have done better than he did tonight, de Laura completed 59% of his passes for 259-yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions despite poor visibility throughout the majority of the game.
  • WSU’s defense held Arizona to 5.1 yards per carry despite the fact that the Wildcats had five different ball carriers with more than three carries. Not bad Cougs, not bad at all.

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Photo Credit: WSU Football

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