Another week, another blown lead. Another Pac-10 loss to add to the string. Another collection of personal performances going into the Cougar record books while the win-loss record gets uglier.
One more week, then the season will be mercifully over.
How many ways can this Cougar team lose? For seven games straight, the Cougars have gone down in different ways. Blown leads. Key injuries. Blown assignments. Bad calls. Questionable plays. Failures to execute. On and on and on. At 3-7, the Cougars have been thumped only once this season and that was on the road by top-ranked USC. In six other conference games, it's been something new and painful every week. WSU is almost certainly the best 3-7 team in the country. This season, the Cougs just can't find a way to get over the hump and get a win.
As has been the pattern far too many times this year, the Cougars took Oregon tight and deep into the fourth quarter before the Ducks put the knife in with the winning field goal as time ran out on the game. The Cougars held a 21-10 lead early in the third quarter and seemed to have momentum and some measure of control. The defense was playing one of their best games of the season – no doubt inspired by the return to the field of Will Derting. The offense, after sputtering early, looked to have found a rhythm and a boost from Alex Brink's forty yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to Jason Hill that closed the first half and gave the Cougs a 14-10 lead.
The Cougs came out after the half and promptly took their first possession up the field for a touchdown off a swing pass that Jerome Harrison turned into a 34 yard score. The Ducks responded by reeling off a big kick return that set the table for a 62 yard touchdown drive followed by a Brink interception that set Oregon up at the Cougar 35. Two plays later, Oregon had another touchdown and the lead. The Cougs would punt on their next possession, then get the ball back when Greg Trent recovered a fumble caused by Wally Dada on the Oregon 24. The Cougs went backwards – a personal foul penalty after the first down play followed by a 9 yard sack – set the stage for a 49 yard field goal attempt that doinked off the upright. Oregon took the ball and immediately hit a 68 yard touchdown pass to the deep middle after Dada lost coverage. Three plays later, Brink threw possibly his most ugly interception of the season downfield straight to a Duck defender with no Cougar receivers within fifteen yards. The bullet was dodged when Steve Dildine intercepted Brady Leaf after pressure by Matt Mullenix.
Down by ten, WSU mounted a drive and turned the pick into a three yard touchdown from Brink to Troy Bienemann – although Bienemann aggravated an already sprained knee on the play and left the field. On the next Cougar possession, Loren Langley made up for two earlier misses from over forty yards by hitting the tying field goal from 45 yards. With 5:15 left in the game and the score tied, the Cougars were again looking at fourth quarter crunch time with an opportunity to win.
It didn't happen. Oregon methodically marched up the field, ran the clock, and kicked the winning field goal from 19 yards as time ran out on the game.
The loss overshadowed a record book day. Hill's performance on the game put him over 1000 yards on the season and gave him 13 touchdowns on the year – a new Cougar season record for receivers. Harrison's 143 yards rushing gave him a Pac-10 record 13 consecutive games with over 100 yards, and also broke Reuben Mayes's 21 year old single season rushing record.
Think on that one a moment. This season, the Cougars have had a receiver set a record for single season touchdowns on a 1000+ yard year and arguably the top running back in the nation set conference and school records. This, and the record stands at 3-7 with no conference wins and a seven game losing streak.
Last week against ASU penalties were a huge problem, and it was no different this week. Inopportune flags took WSU out of scoring position and gave new life to stopped Oregon drives. Two first half Cougar touchdowns came back due to penalties. One would be a wash as WSU was able to score on the drive, the other was lost as the drive resulted in a punt. One step forward, two steps back.
Like the dark days of old, the Cougs are now looking for some kind of redemption on the season from the Apple Cup. That game is no gimme. After looking terrible for most of the year, Washington went down to Arizona and thrashed the Wildcats – not only giving them confidence but also making the Cougars the only team in the Pac-10 without a conference win. Cougar fans hope that will change. Right now, 4-7 with an Apple Cup win looks a lot better than 3-8 with an 0-8 conference record.
CougZone Player of the Game – Jerome Harrison: Harrison continues his dominance of our PotG award with 143 yards rushing, 38 yards receiving, two touchdowns, and two new individual records for consecutive games with 100+ yards and single season yardage.