Nov. 1, 2007
By Jason Krump
Reaching the 7-0 mark was territory that the Cougar football program had rarely experienced; however, as the calendar turned to November, the team was entering a territory all too familiar, and unkind.
Since Mike Price's arrival in 1989, the Cougars were 4-19 in November including a 0-12 mark in road games during the month.
If the Cougars hoped to earn the Pac-10 title, those numbers had to improve, as November offered up four games beginning with a Nov. 1 contest at defending Pac-10 champion Arizona State.
Despite the undefeated mark and a No. 10 ranking for the second consecutive week, the Cougars were three-point underdogs to the 20th-ranked Sun Devils prompting ASU Coach Bruce Snyder to say, "I don't know where that came from, but it did blow my cover in terms of going to the team and saying, `Hey we don't get any respect.'"
The Cougars' undefeated record was due in large part to the lack of any significant injuries occurring through the first seven games.
"I think the main reason for our success was we started primarily the same group of players all year from the first game to the Rose Bowl," Price said. "That really is the difference whether you have a successful season or not. It is really kind of simple."
But the injury bug traveled its way with the team to Tempe and announced itself at a most inopportune time.
"The big thing that happened right before the Arizona State game was where I tore the ligament in my throwing arm right at the elbow where you release," Ryan Leaf said. "It happened Friday night while I was throwing during a walk-through at Sun Devil Stadium. Mark Smaha, our trainer, did a heck of a job building a new ligament out of tape for that game the next night."
While Leaf's injury was sustained in an empty Sun Devil Stadium, the following evening, he would have to cope with his damaged arm in front of 73,644 fans, the fifth largest attendance figure in the history of the stadium. Additionally, it would be the largest crowd to witness a WSU game since the 1995 Apple Cup, which had an audience of 74,144, in ironically, Leaf's first collegiate start.
"At the time it was one of the bigger crowds for that stadium," Ryan McShane said. "They were out to knock us off. We probably never had that bulls eye on our chest before at Washington State."
"That was a tough game for me; I made a couple of calls that didn't go our way. I felt so bad after the game that the players consoled me more than I consoled them."
-Mike Price on the Arizona State loss
Not only were the Cougars playing before a capacity crowd, but they were playing in weather much different than in their previous game. Unlike the mid-40 temperatures of Pullman, WSU had to contend with the nearly 80-degree temperatures of the desert.
"Even though we were playing a night game, it was really, really tough for us, coming from Pullman, where it is 30 degrees cooler, to go into a hot environment and start running like crazy," Duane Stewart said. "You just feel like there is a bear on your back and you feeling really slow. That really caught us off guard.
"If you look at the beginning portion of that game, that's what put us on our heels," Stewart added. "We were really kind of treading water."
And giving up points, as the Cougars fell behind by the largest deficit they would face all season just 22 minutes into the game.
Ahead 7-0 at the end of the first quarter, the Sun Devils extended their lead to double-digits on the first play of the second quarter. ASU scored on its following two possessions to take a 24-0 lead with 7:43 left in the half.
While ASU was seemingly scoring at will, the WSU offense was struggling just to make a first down. During ASU's 24-point scoring blitz, the Cougars generated only two first downs while Leaf, who was wearing a black sleeve on his right elbow and had his forearm taped, completed as many passes in 10 attempts.
But just a minute and a half after falling behind 24-0, the WSU offense showed its first signs of life with a Dejaun Gilmore 59-yard run, setting up a Leaf to Chris Jackson 22-yard touchdown pass play.
The Cougars were now down 24-7 and would take that deficit into the half; however, they continued to chip away at it during the third quarter while the Cougar defense, which had given up 303 first-half yards, settled down.
In the third quarter, WSU outscored ASU 10-0 and outgained the Sun Devils 140-18 in total yardage. But in an ominous sign of things to come, Leaf, who had not been sacked in the first half, was sacked twice in the quarter. In addition, the Cougar defense lost the services of Stewart for the rest of the game, and as it turned out, the remainder of the regular season with a knee injury that occurred at the beginning of the quarter.
No matter, WSU had fought its way back to contention, and incredibly took the lead for the first time at the onset of the final quarter.
Less than two minutes in, Leaf connected with Shawn McWashington from 11 yards out to pull the Cougars within one. On the extra point try, the Sun Devils were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, moving the ball to the one-yard line. Eschewing the possibility of the tie, WSU went for two and was successful on a Leaf quarterback sneak.
The Cougars had battled back to take a 25-24 lead, but it proved to be short-lived as ASU needed only eight plays to drive 80 yards for a touchdown and regain the lead 30-25. The drive was kept alive when a Ray Jackson interception, which would have given the Cougars the ball at ASU's 34, was nullified by a defensive holding call.
The Sun Devils still enjoyed a five-point advantage when the Cougars regained possession at their own eight-yard line with 6:53 remaining. Led by Leaf, who despite the damaged throwing arm, threw for 447 yards, the offense drove to ASU's 23 where it faced a fourth and three situation.
In what would be the pivotal play of the game, Leaf took the snap and was immediately overtaken by a blitzing Mitch Freedman, who registered the Sun Devils' fifth sack of the half. Worse yet for WSU, Leaf fumbled, and ASU's Hamilton Mee recovered and returned it 69 yards for the touchdown.
"I think ASU's defense was the deciding factor," Stewart recalled. "They blitzed us like crazy, and they didn't give Leaf a lot of time to pass the ball."
Things went from bad to worse on the Cougars' next possession when Leaf was once again sacked, and once again fumbled. This time, Derrick Ford, who registered ASU's sixth and final sack of the second half, returned the ball 20 yards for ASU's second touchdown in the span of 23 seconds, putting the Sun Devils up by an insurmountable 44-25 margin.
The final score was 44-31, and the Cougars' dreams of a perfect season were over. After the game, Price would describe the loss as "one of the most disappointing moments of my career."
"That was a tough game for me; I made a couple of calls that didn't go our way," Price remembered, specifically citing the play that resulted in Mee's touchdown return. "I felt so bad after the game that the players consoled me more than I consoled them."
"We were mature enough to realize it was a loss," Stewart said. "We had been around for awhile and been through some losing seasons. Comparing those teams to the team that we had that year, it wasn't hard to come back from that loss at all.
"I think we were more concerned about rankings," Stewart continued. "We moved back and then it turns out that UCLA is ahead of us and that was a little disheartening."
In fact, WSU dropped to 15th in the Coaches' Poll and 16th in the AP Poll while UCLA, improved to 10th and 11th in the AP and Coaches' Polls, respectively.
"I remember a lot of the coaches and players were pretty emotional afterward thinking the ride was over but we came right back and again figured out what our focus was, and started to move forward," McShane said.
The process of moving forward began with a welcome respite from the Pac-10 schedule, a 1-8 Southwestern Louisiana team.
UCLA was originally the scheduled opponent for Nov. 8, but when that contest was moved to August, it left a void, which Southwestern Louisiana filled. Coming off the ASU loss, the schedule change was fortuitous for WSU.
"To not have to come right back with a conference game gave us time to get the bad taste out of our mouth," Price said. "We got to come back home and get our feet back on the ground."
In the days leading up to the game, Southwestern Louisiana Coach Nelson Stokley was quoted as saying, "Would anybody like to be head coach for a week?"
He probably wished that someone had taken him up on his offer as his team fell behind 35-0 at the end of the first quarter and 56-0 at halftime en route to a 77-7 defeat. WSU led 42-0 before the Ragin' Cajuns registered a first down and 11 Cougars each scored a touchdown.
The 77 points were the third most ever by a Cougar team and the most since 1975 when the Cougars scored 84 points against Idaho.
"It's a huge difference playing Arizona State at Tempe than to playing Southwestern Louisiana at home," Stewart said. "Everybody just played half a game. It was funny that the crowd ending up cheering Southwestern Louisiana when they scored."
The next week, the Cougars would need the crowd's support and turnout when they returned to Pac-10 play against Stanford, in what would be their final home game of the season.
Relive the Roses
- Chapter 1: Motivation
- Chapter 2: Fourth and Roses to Go
- Chapter 3: The Catch. The Block. Vanquishing History.
- Chapter 4: The Nation Begins to Take Notice
- Chapter 5: Fabulous!
- Chapter 6: Getting Defensive
- Chapter 7: 63 and 6-0
- Chapter 8: In Elite Company
- Chapter 9: Fumble, Then a Recovery
- Chapter 10: Stepping Up to the Challenge
- Chapter 11: Memories of a Memorable Man
- Chapter 12: Confidence
- Chapter 13: A Storybook Championship
- Chapter 14: Leading up to New Year's Day
- Chapter 15: A Block that Lent a Great Assist
- Chapter 16: A Game 67 Years in the Making
- Chapter 17: Playing No. 1 to a Deadlock
- Chapter 18: To the Final Snap