ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Football uniforms don’t get dirty on synthetic turf. But, for 58 minutes and nine seconds on Saturday, Washington State had played the cleaner game.
Up by 15 points, with the error-prone Colorado State Rams out of timeouts and seemingly out of luck, the Cougars had the finish line in sight.
Then, dramatically and improbably, the Rams ripped this one from the Cougars’ grasp.
Colorado State, forcing two WSU fumbles in the game’s final 1 minute, 51 seconds and cashing in on both, defeated the Cougars 48-45 in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl at University Stadium.
“It’s pretty amazing how it worked,” CSU coach Jim McElwain said afterward. “But at the end of the day it’s about being resilient. It’s about understanding every play has a history and life of its own. I think that was the epitome of it.”
Washington State coach Mike Leach said much the same thing, but from the losing end of the spectrum. The Rams, he said, played a cleaner game when it counted.
“Colorado State finished the game, and we didn’t,” Leach said. “Down the stretch, they were more consistent than we were on offense, they were more disciplined that we were on defense and they finished the game better than we did.”
With some 4½ minutes left, the CSU defense forced a Washington State punt. Quarterback Garrett Grayson than took the Rams 72 yards in just 1:28, hitting wide receiver Jordon Vaden for the touchdown from 12 yards out.
Jared Roberts’ point-after drew CSU within eight points, 45-37, with 2:52 left.
On the ensuing Washington State drive, CSU (8-6) was forced to use its final timeout. A Connor Halliday-to-Rickey Galvin pass then produced a first down, and the Cougars (6-7) were on the doorstep of victory.
On the next play, CSU linebacker Shaquil Barrett appeared to have forced a fumble, recovered by the Rams, on a Halliday keeper. But the call was reversed upon review.
No problem. On the next play, Barrett ripped the ball from the grasp of running back Jeremiah Laufasa and recovered the fumble himself at the Cougars 33-yard line with 1:51 left.
After the disappointment of the reversal of the first fumble, Barrett said, he simply took what was offered on the next play.
“I put myself in the right position,” he said, “but I wasn’t really thinking about trying to get it again because I didn’t think I’d get the opportunity.”
Eight plays later, CSU running back Kapri Bibbs scored from the 1 with 33 seconds left. A two-point conversion run by CSU’s Donnell Alexander at first was ruled no good, but the call was reversed. A crowd announced at 27,104 settled in for overtime.
But, no. On the kickoff, CSU sophomore linebacker Steven Michel jarred the ball loose from Washington State returner Teondray Caldwell. Rams freshman Jake Schlager recovered on the WSU 24 with 24 seconds left.
After a Bibbs run for no gain and a Grayson spike to stop the clock with four seconds left, Roberts booted the game-winning field goal from 41 yards.
“It’s unbelievable,” said CSU center Weston Richburg. “That’s the most unbelievable game I’ve ever been a part of.”
For most of a long afternoon — the game lasted four hours and six minutes — Colorado State had the upper hand on the stat sheet. But the Rams dirtied things up with a series of errors: two fumbles, an interception, dropped passes, crucial penalties, a blocked punt.
Halliday and the Cougars took full advantage, and Colorado State trailed 14-0 with only 3 minutes, 43 seconds gone in the first quarter. The Rams trailed 35-13 with just 2:48 left in the first half.
The Rams were at their best, however, when time was not on their side.
“Maybe we were a little too hyped (early),” said Grayson, noting that no current Ram had played in a bowl game before. “We just needed to calm down and play our own game.”
After the fifth of Halliday’s six touchdown passes, giving the Cougars that 35-13 lead, the Rams scored 10 points in the final minute of the first half. Grayson drove the Rams 75 yards on nine plays in 1:49, and Roberts hit a 30-yard field goal as the gun sounded.
In the third quarter, Washington State’s Andrew Furney kicked a 33-yard field goal. Bibbs then broke a 75-yard touchdown run, but the Cougars answered with an 80-yard scoring drive, stretching their lead back to 15 with 9:35 left in the game.
After an exchange of punts, the Rams got down and dirty, in a good way.
COLORADO ST. 48,
WASHINGTON ST. 45
Washington St. 21 14 3 7—45
Colorado St. 10 13 7 18—48
First Quarter WSU—Cracraft 25 pass from Halliday (Furney kick), 12:32. WSU—Marks 1 pass from Halliday (Furney kick), 11:17. CSU—Lovett 63 pass from Grayson (Roberts kick), 7:02.
WSU—T.West 28 pass from Halliday (Furney kick), 5:27. CSU—FG Roberts 25, 2:52. Second Quarter CSU—FG Roberts 19, 9:55. WSU—Mayle 28 pass from Halliday (Furney kick), 6:52. WSU—Galvin 3 pass from Halliday (Furney kick), 2:48. CSU—Bibbs 1 run (Roberts kick), :59. CSU—FG Roberts 30, :00. Third Quarter WSU—FG Furney 33, 10:43. CSU—Bibbs 75 run (Roberts kick), 10:30. Fourth Quarter WSU—Myers 22 pass from Halliday (Furney kick), 9:35. CSU—Vaden 12 pass from Grayson (Roberts kick), 2:52. CSU—Bibbs 1 run (Alexander run), :33. CSU—FG Roberts 41, :00. A—27,104.
First downs 21 29
Rushes-yards 19-(-10) 46-226
Passing 410 369
Comp-Att-Int 37-58-1 31-51-1
Return Yards 32 1
Punts-Avg. 6-40.5 5-32.8
Fumbles-Lost 3-2 2-2
Penalties-Yards 10-70 7-48
Time of Possession 25:39 34:21
RUSHING—Washington St., T.West 3-17, Caldwell 3-14, Mason 4-5, Laufasa 1-2, K.Williams 1-1, Halliday 7-(minus 49). Colorado St., Bibbs 27-169, Alexander 7-31, Grayson 8-10, Morgan 1-8, Cartwright 1-4, Schlager 1-4, Hansley 1-0.
PASSING—Washington St., Halliday 37-58-1-410. Colorado St., Grayson 31-50-1-369, Team 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING—Washington St., Cracraft 9-125, K.Williams 7-72, Marks 5-37, T.West 3-50, Myers 3-45, Galvin 3-24, Mason 3-18, Mayle 2-38, D.Williams 1-3, Caldwell 1-(minus 2). Colorado St., Vaden 8-60, Lovett 5-93, Hansley 4-56, Gillmore 4-44, Higgins 4-42, Alexander 3-17, Cartwright 2-51, Bibbs 1-6.