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Originally published November 30, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 30, 2008 at 12:35 AM

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Cougs linger but can't recover from early TDs, lose to Hawaii 24-10

The Washington State Cougars football team gave up two early touchdowns to Hawaii to lose to the Warriors 24-10 Saturday in Honolulu to finish 1-11. Still, the Cougars hung with Hawaii after the rough start despite being 28-point underdogs at game time.

Special to The Seattle Times

HONOLULU -- A slow start doomed Washington State's chances of playing spoiler to Hawaii's bid to secure a bowl berth.

Warriors quarterback Greg Alexander had the first 300-yard passing game of his career, throwing for 315 yards and two touchdowns as Hawaii defeated the Cougars 24-10 Saturday night at Aloha Stadium.

The win secured a spot in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl for the Warriors (7-5) while Washington State (2-11) lost 11 games in a season for the first time in school history.

"From injures to inexperience to finding ways to lose games, that part has been tough," first-year WSU coach Paul Wulff said. "I really thought the team for the last five games has played better football. We didn't win them all, but we played better football as a football team."

Washington State spotted Hawaii 14 quick points before settling down and staying with the Warriors despite being 28-point underdogs at game time.

The Cougars sacked Alexander five times and held Hawaii to 156 yards in the second half. Time after time, the defense kept the Warriors from expanding on their 14-point lead, but the offense was held to a measly 196 total yards. Quarterbacks Kevin Lopina and JT Levenseller combined for only 76 passing yards the game.

"We just don't have enough firepower on offense right now to be able to counteract a good defensive effort," Wulff said.

Hawaii moved the ball a seasonlong 97 yards on its first drive, capped by a 19-yard touchdown pass from Alexander to Greg Salas for an early 7-0 lead.

After a three-and-out by the Cougars, the Warriors quickly marched down the field with little opposition. Alexander converted a key third down with a 10-yard run, and Daniel Libre scored from 2 yards to put the Warriors up 14.

"We gave up some big plays at times, especially in the first half," Wulff said. "We couldn't control the quarterback when he scrambled and that's how they get [touchdowns on] their two drives."

Hawaii looked to be on the verge of blowing out the Cougars when kicker Dan Kelly missed a 27-yard field-goal early in the second quarter that would have made it a three-possession game. The miss injected life into the Cougars, who marched 71 yards on their next drive. They took the ball inside the Hawaii 10 before settling for a 26-yard field goal by Nico Grasu that cut the lead to 14-3.

A costly fumble late in the half could have been a lot worse for the Cougars had they not held the Warriors to three points. Lopina fumbled the exchange from center, which was recovered by Hawaii defensive lineman Josh Leonard at the WSU 5 with 2:42 remaining. The turnover set up a 22-yard field goal by Kelly to make it 17-3.

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Levenseller replaced Lopina on the final drive of the half for WSU and hit Kevin Norrell for 28 yards on his first throw. The play set up a 37-yard attempt by Grasu with five seconds left that went wide left to keep the game 17-3 at the break.

Only Hawaii's kicking woes kept the Cougars in the game. Kelly missed a 33-yard attempt and had a 47-yard kick blocked in the fourth quarter. Devin Giles recovered the blocked kick and broke a slew of tackles, but tried to get tricky and pitched the ball backward to Chima Nwachukwu, who dropped it, allowing Hawaii to recover, ending any chances of a comeback.

"We felt like we left some plays out there on the field and you can't do that on the road," said linebacker Cory Evans, who finished with a team-leading six tackles and a sack.

The game marked the end of the road for 19 Cougars seniors, including wide receiver Brandon Gibson, who was held to one catch for 18 yards. Gibson finished his career as the school's all-time leader in receiving yards (2,756) and second to Michael Bumpus in receptions with 182.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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