BY Art Thiel 12:58AM 09/30/2017

No more jokes: Cougars beat USC in Pullman

16th-ranked Washington State pulled off one of the greatest wins in Cougars history, controlling the game and downing USC 30-27 on national TV in Pullman Friday night.

Mike Leach had the pinnacle moment of his Pullman tenure Friday night. / Getty Images

A pause, please, in all the jokes about Cougars football. Applause, please.

Kings for the night in college football, unbeaten Washington State (5-0) toppled fifth-ranked USC (4-1) 30-27 Friday night in front of a delirious,  sold-out (33,773) Martin Stadium crowd. The triumph likely ushered in a three-day bender the likes of which has not been seen since the final weekend of the 19-year-old minimum drinking age next door in Idaho.

The 16th-ranked Cougars hadn’t beaten the Trojans in Pullman since 2002, when a dark-haired kid named Pete Carroll was in his second year coaching at USC. WSU had lost 15 in a row at home to top-25 opponents, the longest such drought among Power Five conference schools. And they were were 3½-point underdogs to the tradition-rich program from Los Angeles.

But a resolute defense led by Hercules Mata’afa pestered one-time Heisman Trophy candidate QB Sam Darnold into haste and errors, while QB Luke Falk survived five sacks and five dropped passes to throw for 340 yards to lead the Cougars to 10 points on their final two possessions.

As fans poured onto the field, coach Mike Leach, who had his often-controversial tenure validated in his sixth season in the Palouse, was the only stoic in the house as he stared into ESPN’s national camera after one of the greatest wins in Washington State history.

“I’m not surprised or stunned,” he said. “I’m extremely pleased for these guys.”

The surprised/stunned folks were the Trojans, who cringed watching Darnold deliver the poorest production of his 15-game  career, with just 164 yards on 15 of 29 passing. The  final indignity came on the Trojans’ final offensive play.

On second down with 1:20 play and needing about 50 yards for a shot at a game-tying field goal, Darnold was strip-sacked by blitzing safety Jahad Woods. WSU recovered and ran out the clock to spare generations of Cougars fans the heartbreak of a late giveaway.

It must be noted that the Trojans lost to injury during the game two starting offensive linemen, RT Chuma Edoga and RG Viane Talamaivao. Already missing from an earlier injury was starting LT Toa Lobendahn.

But there was precious little eye moisture in the Palouse for Trojans’ shorthandness, especially with 40 players on the WSU roster from California, many of them Trojan wannabes in high school.

Jamal Morrow was one of them. He led the Cougars with 91 yards on six carries, plus another 47 yards on five receptions. That included the back-breaker play of the game, a third-down shovel pass from Falk with 10:14 left that Morrow turned into a 23-yard touchdown and a 27-20 lead.

Darnold had his best moments on the ensuing possession, completing five of six passes, including a remarkable throw on fourth-and-13 for a first down. He ran in an option keeper from two yards to tie the game at 27 with 5:13 left.

Falk took over from there. Despite a battering from USC’s premier pass rushers, Falk coaxed 60 yards in eight plays to set up Erik Powell’s decisive 32-yard field goal with 1:40 left.

WSU ran 81 plays to 58 for USC, and out-gained the Trojans 462-327.  USC converted only two of 11 third downs. The Cougars mixed the Air Raid short pass game with a well-timed ground game to bewilder the Trojans regularly, making a substantial claim that they were legitimately the better team.

Up until now, the Cougars season benefited from four home games, all against decidedly weaker outfits. Friday’s game made for the first time in WSU football history a season began with five consecutive home games.

But history was made far more substantially on the scoreboard against the team with the conference’s richest football tradition.


Falk’s two TD passes gave him 105 for his career, tying with Oregon’s Marcus Mariota for second-most in Pac-12 history behind USC’s Matt Barkley . . . his 34 completions gave him 1,211, breaking the Pac-12 career record by Oregon State’s Sean Mannion . . .His 12,611 passing yards are third in conference history . . . Career win No. 23 leaves him one short of Jason Gesser’s school record . . . WSU is 5-0 for the first time since starting the 2001 season 7-0 . . .  WSU beat a top-five-ranked team for the first time since beating No. 5 Texas in the 2003 Holiday Bowl. In the regular season, it was the first win over a top-five  team since beating No. 5 Washington in 1992 in the famous Snow Bowl game behind QB Drew Bledsoe.




  • Talkjoc

    It’s pretty awesome that the state of Washington has some of the best college football teams at all levels that we can enjoy. Unlike the mess that is the NFL.

    • art thiel

      Not sure I’d call the NFL a mess just yet, but having both big schools this good is a rare treat. Leach had to go through some serious brambles, but here he is.

  • coug73

    It’s only a game, but what a game it was last night in the Palouse. Bust the Trojans and now all is loose on the Palouse. Go Cougs

    • art thiel

      Like clockwork, happens every quarter century.

      • coug73

        I comment more often than you suggest.

  • ReebHerb

    From a Husky, Go Gougs! This is a tough conference with good coaches. Leach is refreshingly different and dangerous.

    • bugzapper

      No real Husky EVER says “Go Cougs.” GodDAMN I hate the pussification of what used to be a bloodsport rivalry!

      • John M

        Ah, you can hate both teams while hating the Coug’s less. So you can say Go Coug’s and hate them some at the same time . . .

        • art thiel

          Parsing the hate. There’s a thought.

          • John M

            Just trying to support the spirit of the moment . . .

      • art thiel

        I missed when that time of bloodsport happened.

        But I do remember the trash talk, which is now outlawed as the the coaches keep tighter control over their unpaid laborers, lest the industry tips over like college hoops.

      • WestCoastBias79

        That’s what people don’t get about the rivalry. UW’s real rival is Oregon. WSU wishes they were UW’s real rival, and to WSU they are, but to UW they’re like the little brother. When you play them, you pound them, but are cool with them doing okay on their own. The Ducks? Eff them for eternity.

        • art thiel

          Because WSU has always been the little brother, it always takes the UW rivalry more seriously. It’s what little brothers do.

    • art thiel

      Leach is an original thinker in football and elsewhere. That is always dangerous, to opponents and himself.

  • Diamond Mask

    What a great game to watch. An exquisitely even match right until the end. I kept waiting for the Trojans depth and experience to take over the game but it never happened. Perhaps that’s what the Trojans were waiting for as well. The inevitability of their superiority however never surfaced on a beautiful night in the Palouse. Go Cougs.

    • art thiel

      The Cougs were the better team. Not sure I get Helton’s playcalling, but he was outsmarted by Leach.

  • DAWG

    November 25 WOOF !
    Bishop vs Pirate

    • art thiel

      Best sports cartoon the Times has done.

      • TimJoFred

        Art, don’t forget that Eastern Washington beat the Cougs just last year. They may be a smaller school but they had a bigger heart that day.

  • Lightninbug

    Though I was rather stunned to hear of the Coug’s victory, I did not miss the information that USC began the game lacking their starting left tackle and proceeded to lose their RT as well as their RG. And, though there was no tears lost in the Palouse over that glaring (and gaping) hole in the enemy line. the fact that USC still came perilously close to winning the game despite Darnold’s poor showing will take some of the shine off that victory as a certain soberness sets in East of the Cascades.

    Good on the Cougs, for a win is always a win, but considering the damage to USC’s offensive line, a touch of perspective comes into focus.

    • art thiel

      C’mon, Lightning, the Cougs won, no matter the injuries to USC. Tap the keg. Light the bong. Burn the sofas.

      • Diamond Mask

        soberness is for Huskies…..
        I’m hoping in the next meeting Leach can hold back his patronization of Peterson but I doubt it. Much to his peril.

      • Lightninbug

        Wow, I never expected such a vacuous reply from you Art. The things that I pointed out were obvious to someone, like myself, who started watching Husky football 64 year ago when my dad took me to games while attending UW law school. Later I was a homegame paper boy for the PI and we were let in free at half time. I go way back with the Dawgs.

        Can you point out the where I got my facts wrong?

  • woofer

    These are crazy times. Who knows, maybe even the Cubs will win a World Series.

    • (redacted)

      The Mariners making the playoffs would signal truely insane times

  • PokeyPuffy

    Dont get me wrong, great win. But USC has been off all year, and I think the press has been very slow to recognize this. The Darnold hype machine was already in full swing before the season even began. The narrow double overtime win over Texas (who started an error prone true freshman at QB) should have been the wakeup call for the pundits, but they kept USC in the top 5. Texas/USC game probably gave Leach some nice defensive film to study, Texas kept em bottled up all nite and were super aggressive in stopping the run.