Two late touchdowns net WSU its first Pac-12 victory
Marquess Wilson catches a 63-yard touchdown for the winner
Seattle Times colleges reporter
BOULDER, Colo. — It all happened so fast, so innocently. Washington State's afternoon of exasperation under a hot Colorado sun shifted dramatically, unexpectedly, in the Cougars' favor.
If it needs a name, make it the Rocky Mountain Miracle.
They had trailed by double digits with five minutes to go, they had endured some of the most, uh, provocative officiating you'll see in the Pac-12, and they had occasionally thrown in a dash of their own frailties.
But now they were drawing up a play on the sideline, hoping a tendency by the Colorado safeties to bite on inside routes would hold up. Marquess Wilson lined up left, Bobby Ratliff inside him ran a square-out and while the line protected Marshall Lobbestael seamlessly, Wilson slowed between cornerback Greg Henderson and safety Anthony Perkins, baiting them.
Suddenly, Wilson turned on the jets, beating the Buffs badly. On the right side, receiver Jared Karstetter thought to himself, "Catch it. Catch the damn ball."
Wilson outran it at the Colorado 30, loped into the end zone, and WSU had itself a 63-yard touchdown play with 70 seconds left. Moments later, after a Colorado turnover, it had stood up for a defining 31-27 victory over the Buffs.
As the jubilant Cougars ran up a ramp toward their locker room, coach Paul Wulff was as celebratory as the next guy in crimson. Fans extended high-fives and he high-fived them right back.
It was a day the Cougars needed, and Wulff needed as much. If there was any doubt about his passion, it was erased with a little more than two minutes left when, after a pass-interference call on cornerback Daniel Simmons, Wulff went all Mike Stoops on an official, veins popping, spit flying, barking and berating.
"When Coach Wulff shows all that energy, it gets us going," said defensive end Travis Long, "to keep on fighting and fighting even more."
They needed every bit of it. The Cougars (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) were swimming upstream almost all day long, trailing throughout the second half in a game they desperately had to win. Astonishingly, they had five personal-foul penalties in the first half, some of them deserved, others that will no doubt find themselves in a FedEx video package early this week to the league office in Walnut Creek, Calif.
"We were road warriors," said linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis, who had 14 tackles and two sacks. "We battled on the road despite adversity. I ain't gonna point any fingers at adversity, but y'all can take some wild guesses.
"It was just huge for Cougar football."
Colorado (1-4, 0-1) is nobody's idea of a contender in the Pac-12 South. But it's a team with a considerable home-field advantage and it took California to overtime three weeks ago.
This was a far better victory for the Cougars than the one last year at Oregon State. They didn't sneak up on anybody this day, they just hung tough when they got down 27-17 and kept loading offensive bullets into the chamber, assuming something would hit.
Marshall Lobbestael, who has been a better backup quarterback than most WSU faithful could have envisioned, led them on a brisk drive to cut the deficit to 27-24 with 2:35 left.
At that point, the Cougars had ample chance, with three timeouts left. But then came the dubious pass-interference call against Simmons on the Colorado sideline against receiver Toney Clemons, which looked for all the world like a game-decider.
"I was like, 'What else can you call?' " said Simmons, recalling his frustration. "I played that to perfection, just like I'm coached to do. You watch it on film. I felt it was textbook."
Still, the Buffs didn't manage the clock well, and here were the Cougars, 90 yards away with 1:50 to go. They had committed manifold sins, like an inability to block short-yardage runs and some bad decision-making on a squib kickoff that essentially gifted Colorado a field goal just before halftime.
That didn't matter, as Lobbestael got them to the 37 and then sighted Wilson running behind the Buffs' defense.
And a coach was left to ask his team, "When is enough enough? You put in all this work, you do all this stuff you've done from spring ball to training camp for this? This is what we did the work for?"
That was Colorado's Jon Embree, using words no doubt familiar to Wulff.
Over on the other side, Long said it was his happiest day as a Cougar. From the looks of it, he spoke for a lot of people.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-12.
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