Oct. 2, 1999
(October 2, 1999, Pullman, Wash): A Homecoming crowd of 27,682 watched as Washington State stymied the California offense en route to the Cougars' first Pac-10 win since 1997. Snapping a 12-game losing streak, WSU moved to 1-4 overall in 1999, 1-2 in the Pac-10. The loss dropped Cal to 2-2 overall, 1-1 in conference play. The first quarter was a battle of inactive offenses. Cal's Marcus Fields rushed nine times for 19 yards as the Golden Bears picked up five first downs and 91 yards. But WSU's defense held Cal scoreless. In the meantime, the Golden Bear defense was doing a number on the Cougar offense. Over three first quarter possessions, WSU managed only a single first down. In the second quarter, WSU's fortunes would change. Starting a drive from the WSU 41 yard line, WSU picked up four first downs to bring the ball to the California 18 yard line. One play later, quarterback Steve Birnbaum passed to Colin Henderson near the right sideline and watched him race into the endzone for the score and the 7-0 lead. WSU looked to shake things up on the ensuing kickoff, sending a high pooch-kick that was fumbled by Fa'avae Fa'avae at the California 30 yard line. The Cougs' Jeremy Thielbahr recovered the fumble and the WSU offense was back in business. Four plays later, Rian Lindell's field goal kick split the uprights and gave WSU a 10-point lead with 9:17 left in the second quarter. The Golden Bears' next possession was brief. Losing six yards on three plays, Cal was forced to punt. WSU's Mory Banks blocked the punt attempt, deflecting the ball toward Wendell Smith who recovered and ran to the California 11 yard line. Three snaps later, Birnbaum plowed through the line on a quarterback-sneak for a one-yard touchdown run. WSU's 17-0 lead would hold going into halftime. It appeared that a Cougar curse might upend WSU early in the second half. Just three plays into the third quarter, Birnbaum dropped back and was drilled by Jacob Waasdorp, knocking the football loose. Before WSU could react, Waasdorp scooped up the ball and rumbled 25-yards for a touchdown. At 17-7, the Cougars still maintained a 10-point advantage with 13:44 left in the third quarter, but the game was suddenly tight. The 10-point tension would last into the fourth quarter. On its first possession of the final stanza, WSU mounted a 16-play, 96-yard drive. Eating up nearly six minutes of game time, the Cougars moved from their own seven yard line to the California 10 yard line before Birnbaum threw his final touchdown pass of the day to Marcus Williams. The Golden Bear offense never managed to score before the game ended, but WSU added another fourth-quarter touchdown. Deon Burnett, who finished with 104 yards rushing for the game, carried the ball every down of WSU's five-play, 55-yard touchdown drive. The 24-point margin of defeat was the largest for WSU against a Pac-10 opponent since it defeated California 63-37 in 1997.
NOTES & QUOTES:
SAYING GOOD-BYE: WSU bid farewell to its losing streak Saturday. And the only tears were tears of joy. "As a team this is big," said Mory Banks, whose punt block not only provided a scoring opportunity, but generated Cougar-momentum. "We have been coming closer together as a team to try and get this monkey off of our back and finally everything came together." Said senior Jesse Ratcliff, "We're headed in a different direction now. It's a great feeling to get this out of the way. Smiles are all-around after this one." And coach Mike Price introduced the notion that the next WSU streak, should be a winning one. "It was a good solid victory," Price said. "It's just one game, but now we're working on a some other kind of streak. A winning streak."
SING!: The Cougars looked a little confused after their victory. It has been school tradition to sing the fight song with the band after a win, but the last time the Cougars did that was 1998. But even though it took some time for a couple Cougs to remember where to go, the lyrics came right back to them. "I'll never forget those words," Price said. "It was an emotional game. We were pretty happy singing the fight song."
MOVING ON: "I've never been through anything like that in my life," said Mike Price of the Cougars 12-game losing streak that was ended Saturday. "And I don't want to go through it again." Yet Price recognized that it hasn't only been tough for him and the players, but for Cougar fans as well. "The fans have been great the whole time," Price said. "They have never booed us in 12 games...You would have thought we were 4-0 last night at the (Homecoming) pep rally."
COMEBACK KIDS: LeJuan Gibbons was singled out by Utah quarterback Darnell Arceneaux after the season opener. It was Gibbons, Arceneaux said, that was known to bite on the pump-fake. Saturday against Cal, Gibbons just bit on the ball, blanketing receivers all game and grabbing his first interception of the season. "I realized they've been picking on me a little bit, because of the first two games," Gibbons said. "But my last two games have been pretty solid in my mind." And along with Gibbons' improvement has come the team's. Predicted to be the team strength going into the season, WSU's defense finally put forth a performance that lived up to its ability. "We just played defense the way we know how to," Gibbons said. "We know we struggled in the first couple games and gave up some big plays, but that was when we were out there trying to take things too serious and worrying about screwing up...Cougar football is having fun, flying around, making plays, and that is what we've returned to that last two games."
CAL'S CURSE: 1979. That was the last time California beat the Cougars in Pullman. And that streak is still alive. "It was, quite frankly, a very difficult loss," Cal coach Tom Holmoe said. "We didn't go into this game thinking Washington State is a joke...It's embarrassing from the standpoint that we didn't come to play, and we didn't make plays." So what's up with Pullman? "I don't know, but I'm glad I never have to come back here," said Cal linebacker Sekou Sanyika.