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November 5, 2005

Cougs claw back, fall short, 24-27

Well, you can stick the fork in the last hopes for a bowl this season. With the loss to ASU, it is now mathematically impossible for the Cougs to have a winning season and bowl bid this year. This is a huge disappointment for Cougar fans who anticipated things would be substantially improved from last year's 5-6 record.

How many ways can the Cougars find to lose games? It's becoming almost an art form this year. The kind of art form that moves people to line up to protest and write angry letters to Congress.

The Cougs did themselves no favors in the first half. The Cougar defense allowed ASU to score on four of six drives, with the non-scoring drives ending on an Alex Teems pick in the Cougar endzone and an ASU punt shortly before the end of the half. ASU ran up massive numbers through the air. On the game, Rudy Carpenter ended up 31 of 45 for 382 yards, two touchdowns, and the Teems pick. 304 of those yards and both touchdowns came in the first half. ASU was able to pass at will. Third and long? Not a problem. ASU converted routinely through the air. The Sun Devils only went to the run to give their receivers an opportunity to get a breather and a drink.

ASU built a 10-24 half time lead on that airshow, but to the credit of the Cougars, the second half was another story. The Cougar defense played substantially better and the Cougar offense came alive. The Sun Devils would score a field goal on their first possession of the second half, and that was it for ASU scoring. The Cougs scored touchdowns on their first two possessions of the half. Jerome Harrison had already gone off for 144 yards in the first half, and would almost match that in the second to finish with 237 yards on 37 carries. Harrison made the score 17-27 with a seven yard run around the right side. After holding ASU, the Cougs were forced to start from their own nine. They promptly drove 91 yards in five plays to cut the score to 24-27 on a 49 yard Brink to Jason Hill touchdown pass. A big factor for the renewed Cougs was the play of Trandon Harvey who had an outstanding game and finished as the leading Cougar receiver. Momentum had definitely turned.

The second half Cougar defense came alive, stepped up to the challenge, and gave the team opportunities to win. With the pass suddenly struggling, the Sun Devils went to the run with limited success. Balls seemed to be bouncing the Cougars' way...literally. One key momentum swing in the game came in the fourth quarter when Ropati Pitoitua knocked the ball loose from Carpenter, allowing Mkristo Bruce to hop on the fumble.

This would be the fateful drive for WSU. After the recovery, the Cougars took the ball over on the WSU 37 and drove down to the field to the ASU five yard line. Stymied short of a touchdown, the Cougars went to Loren Langley who booted a 25 yard field goal for the tie. But there was a flag. A defensive offsides flag, to be exact. Suddenly, a fourth and long five could become a fourth and a long one - but at the price of taking the tying field goal off the board. The coaches chose to go for the win. The points came off, and the Cougars ran Jerome Harrison to the right in an attempt to turn the corner and make the conversion. ASU seemed to be expecting it. Harrison was stopped short and the Sun Devils took the ball.

The Cougs weren't done. The defense held ASU to the first Sun Devil three-and-out of the game, and WSU got the ball back on the ASU 46. The Cougar offense got the ball down to the ASU 23 and was facing a third and five. Then the fourth quarter snake bit. Alex Brink took a 12 yard sack, and suddenly a very makeable 40 yard field goal attempt became a 52 yarder into the wind. The kick went wide left, and ASU managed enough offense to run out the clock and collect the win.

The loss overshadowed an outstanding effort by Harrison and the Cougar offensive line. Also impressive was the play of the Cougar defensive front in the second half. Aaron Johnson came up big with two second half sacks, and Scott Davis and Steve Dildine seemed to be all over the field. With improved play up front, the secondary was able to stiffen and make plays.

Mental errors hurt, particularly on special teams. DeMaundray Woolridge made two devastating decisions on kick returns that resulted in the Cougars starting two first half drives inside the WSU 10 yard line. After the second error - where Woolridge took the ball out of the endzone, reconsidered and stepped back into the endzone, realized he couldn't do that and came out again only to be buried at the Cougar 4 - Lorenzo Bursey stepped in on returns.

One step forward, two steps back has been the story this season for WSU. Good things were offset and overcome by the bad, including a hip injury to Brandon Gibson that could keep Gibson out of action and is another blow to a depleted receiver corps. The Cougars now have two games left and are playing for pride.

CougZone Player of the Game - Jerome Harrison: Harrison is simply the best running back the Cougars have had in many years. With the help of an outstanding effort from the offensive line, Harrison racked up his 12th consecutive game with over 100 yards rushing.


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