ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – In an incredible finish in the New Mexico Bowl, Colorado State scored 18 points in the final three minutes Saturday and stunned Washington State, 48-45.
The Cougars won’t soon forget their first bowl appearance in 10 years, but for all the wrong reasons. They fell to 6-7 in 2013.
WSU appeared to have the game in hand, as it tried to run the clock out following a CSU score with 2:52 left that pulled the Rams to within 45-37. The Cougars first caught a break when Connor Halliday’s fumble was ruled to have happened after he was downed. But on the next play, Jeremiah Laufusa coughed it up at the WSU 33, and that led to Kapri Bibbs’ short TD run with 33 seconds left.
Needing a two-point conversion, CSU got it when Donnell Alexander, on a statute-of-liberty handoff, ran left and lunged the ball to the pylon. He was initially ruled out of bounds, but replays showed him to have touched the pylon to tie the score.
If disaster hadn’t struck WSU yet, it did with force this time. Teondray Caldwell fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and two plays later, Jared Roberts booted a 41-yard field goal to win it for CSU (8-6), which was playing in its first bowl since 2008.
WSU saw CSU pull within 38-30 in the second half and the momentum was with the Rams.
But early in the fourth quarter, Halliday led the Cougars on an 80-yard drive, completing a key third-down pass to Gabe Marks and a fourth-down flip to Kristoff Williams. Halliday eventually hit Isiah Myers for 22 yards on a post route to make it 45-30.
But WSU couldn’t run enough clock, and the Rams drove 72 yards in just 85 seconds, and Garrett Grayson hit Jordon Vaden, as the Cougars busted a coverage over the middle and CSU was within 45-37 with 2:52 left.
WSU had serious defensive problems in the first half, but short fields consistently aided the Cougars as Halliday threw five touchdown passes, four of the drives starting in Rams territory.
The first 40 seconds augured what kind of free-wheeling game it would be. Halliday’s second pass, intended for Isiah Myers, was high and tipped up and intercepted by linebacker Max Morgan at the WSU 31.
But on CSU’s first play from scrimmage, quarterback Garrett Grayson threw successfully to Rashard Higgins. But Cougar senior cornerback Nolan Washington stripped Higgins of the ball on the tackle, returned it to the CSU 44, and Halliday eventually floated a 25-yard scoring pass to freshman River Cracraft.
The Cougars initially got tremendous pressure on Grayson, and CSU committed a holding penalty and Grayson was flagged for intentional grounding on the succeeding Ram series, pinning them back at their 3.
Theron West, heretofore a sparingly used player, blocked the punt, WSU took over at the CSU five and in short order, Halliday flicked a one-yard slant pass to Gabe Marks for the score that made it 14-0.
But the Cougars never could really put their throat on the Rams defensively, and CSU’s next series was reflective of the problems, as Colorado State ran up 319 first-half yards. Grayson found a completely wide open Charles Lovett behind the WSU secondary for a 63-yard score and the lead was cut to 14-7, WSU.
WSU struck back with another score on a Halliday-to-West pass of 28 yards for a 21-7 lead.
Eventually, Halliday blew away the New Mexico Bowl record with five touchdown passes — he had the mark by halftime — yet WSU couldn’t put the Rams away.
The Cougars pushed out to their largest lead of the half at 35-13, and with a stop and 2:48 remaining, could have virtually finished CSU. But the Rams then drove for a score with 59 seconds left to make it 35-20, and WSU tried to attack in the remaining time.
But Halliday got sacked back to the WSU 10, and instead of trying to run clock, WSU instead gave the Rams the ball back at the Cougar 40 with 30 seconds remaining, and Jared Roberts kicked his third field goal of the half with no time left from 30 yards away to make it 35-23 at half.
Anatomy of a collapse
Washington State held a 45-30 lead over Colorado State with three minutes left in the New Mexico Bowl. What happened after that made the Cougars’ first bowl appearance in 10 years memorable for all the wrong reasons.