April 25, 1999
PULLMAN, Wash. - Freshman Ramin White recovered a botched extra point attempt by the Gray team for a two-point defensive score that broke a tie and boosted the Crimson squad to a 25-23 win in Washington State University's annual Spring Football Game Saturday afternoon at Martin Stadium.
Paul Mencke had just driven the Gray team 68 yards for the tying score with two minutes, 30 seconds left in the game. Rian Lindell, who booted a field goal for each team and had already made both of his extra point kicks, lined up for the potential game winner.
Unfortunately Erik Larson's snap sailed over Lindell's head and across mid-field, where players from both teams kept the ball alive with a variety of slaps and kicks until it finally rolled into the opposite endzone. The last player to touch it was White, who cradled the ball while on the ground, giving the Crimson the defensive extra point and two points.
Moments later, after the Gray team's final drive died at their own 30 as time ran out, the never-ending discussion of how a center, Larson, who was wearing a Crimson jersey, just happened to snap the ball out of harms reach.
Members of the Gray team left the field with strong feelings Larson had sold them out. "I plead the fifth," Larson offered as he left the field. Crimson coaches and players alike, however, maintained it was just the luck of the bounce that gave them the win. Any one of several Gray players could have stopped the wild dash chasing a loose football by simply falling on it, thus leaving the score 23-23.
After the game, head coach Mike Price said both teams were winners in his mind and that both teams had earned a steak dinner next Tuesday. As tradition has it, usually just the winners get the steak, the losers hot dogs.
"That was a little unusual," Price offered after the game. "I don't think anybody lost that game today. Each team wanted to win and it was competitive."
In stark contrast to WSU's scrimmage a week ago when the defense totally dominated the offense, this spring finale had a little of both. The Cougar quarterbacks, Jason Gesser and Kjell Nesen for the Crimson and Mencke and Steve Birnbaum, for the Gray team, combined to complete 37 of 59 passes for 481 yards and no interceptions. In addition the Gray team gained 120 yards on the ground, while the Crimson backs gained 90, including 79 by Jeremy Thielbahr.
Defensively, transfer Curtis Holden made 10 tackles for the Gray team and Grady Emmerson had eight for the Crimson squad. While the defenses were not allowed to blitz, Rob Meyer still managed two sacks and Crimson teammates Tory Holliman and Austin Matson had one each. On the other side of the ball both Jesse Ratcliff and Eric Boose recorded sacks for the Gray team.
"I thought the quarterbacks played well," Price said. "Gesser started out pretty good, what a way to start the game." Gesser, the freshman, completed passes of 52 and six yards, had a pass dropped and then ran for a first down in leading the Crimson team into position for Lindell's first field goal, a 46 yarder.
"We didn't answer any of the questions about the quarterbacking position, but I know that we're better there," offered Price. "They played very well.
In all, Gesser completed 14 of his 24 passes for 224 yards, while teammate Nesen hit one of four throws. On the other side of the ball, senior Steve Birnbaum opened for the Gray team, completing eight of 16 passes for 94 yards. Mencke hit on 13 of his 24 passes for 147 yards. Mencke had two scoring passes, one covering 70 yards to Leaford Hackett and the 11-yarder to Farwan Zubedi that tied the game 23-23.
The only other touchdown pass of the game came from running back Alex Tinsley, who tossed 13 yards to Russell Mizin on a fake run that gave the Crimson a 17-7 lead in the second quarter.
The winning Crimson team scored on its first two possessions for a 10-0 lead. The first came on Lindell's field goal, the second on Gesser's long pass to Hackett. Mencke answered for the Gray team with a one-yard sneak and then after Tinsley and Mizin hooked up, the Gray drove close enough for Lindell to hit a 34 yard field goal. His kick closed out the first half scoring with the Crimson club ahead 17-10.
In the second half Nick Lambert took over the kicking chores and soon put the Crimson ahead with a 38-yard field goal. That was followed by a 40 yarder as the Crimson increased their lead to 23-10.
Alvin Arzu ignited the Gray comeback attempt when he danced his way to a 53-yard run late in the third quarter. Nearly downed for a loss by several Crimson would-be tacklers, he finally broke through the line and was off toward the endzone. LeJuan Gibbons finally caught and tackled him at the five, but Mencke quickly dashed into the endzone on a quarterback draw. Lambert's kick made it 23-27 and set the stage for the bizarre ending.
"I think it was one of the best spring games we have had," Price said. "I am pleased with the progress of the team right now. We looked better than I anticipated we would look."
"I think the best overall improvement was by the defense," Price said in looking back over four weeks of spring drills. Our defense got better as spring ball went along."
With the end of spring drills, Price and his staff will now begin concentrating on the opening three weeks of fall camp, which begins Aug. 12. WSU's opener will be Sept. 4 against Utah in Pullman.
Crimson 10 7 6 2 - 25 Gray 0 10 7 6 - 23
Crimson - Lindell 46 field goal
Crimson - Hackett 70 pass from Gesser (Lindell kick)
Gray - Mencke 1 run (Lindell kick)
Crimson - Mizin 13 pass from Tinsley (Lindel kick)
Gray - Lindell 34 field goal
Crimson - Lambert 38 field goal
Crimson - Lambert 40 field goal
Gray - Mencke 5 run (Lambert kick)
Gray - Zubedi 11 pass from Mencke
Crimson - White recovered center snap for defensive PAT
Crimson Rushing: Tinsley 3/3, Thielbahr 22/79, Hackett 1/5, Nessen 1/5,
Crimson Passing: Nessen 4/1/0/3/0/3, Gesser 24/14/0/224/0/70.
Crimson Receiving: Wynn 1/6, Nettles 1/6, Mizin 2/28, Hackett 5/142, Douglas 1/6, Torian 3/27, Thielbahr 1/6, Tinsley 1/11, Carmichael 1/8.
Gray Rushing: Brown 7/32, Arzu 3/54, Pringle 2/0, Zubedi 1/-4, Mencke 5/29, Birnbaum 6/9.
Gray Passing: Mencke 24/13/0/147/2/35, Birnbaum 16/8/0/94/0/26.
Gray Receiving: DeCambra 4/51, Zubedi 6/65, Taylor 4/49, Scott 2/11, Roquemore 3/54, Brown 2/11.
Punting (both teams): Anderson 8/334/41.8 yards.
Sacks: Crimson - Holliman 1/-3, Matson 1/-6, Meier 2/-11; Gray - Ratcliff 1/-3, Boose 1/-11.
Leading Tacklers: Crimson - Emmerson 8/6/2; Gray - Holden 10/2/8.