WALLA WALLA — By the time I tuned in to the New Mexico Bowl late Saturday afternoon, the game was already in the fourth quarter and I was already in a bad mood.
I had made it home from a quick trip to the Tri-Cities just in time to catch the second half of Gonzaga’s men’s basketball game at Kansas State, and I was dismayed by the Zags’ tortured performance. They shot the ball poorly, struggled on the boards and were guilty of way too many turnovers.
At least that’s the way it seemed as I watched Gonzaga rally from a 10-point deficit to take a one-point lead only to fade in the final minutes of play.
Of course, losing to a quality program on the road by 10 points (72-62) is hardly a disgrace. Especially so for a Gonzaga team that appears to be a player or two short of NCAA powerhouse standards, and perhaps more than that depending on this week’s medical report on Sam Dower, who didn’t play in the second half Saturday after taking a hard fall.
That said, it was a very winnable game for the team from Spokane.
But I digress.
I knew that Washington State, which was making its first appearance in a bowl game since the 2003 Holiday Bowl, led Colorado State 35-23 at halftime of Saturday’s football game in Albuquerque. And the Cougs were still on top 38-30 when I changed channels.
Moments later, WSU quarterback Connor Halliday zipped 22-yard touchdown pass to Isiah Meyers. Andrew Furney booted the extra point and WSU led 45-30 with 9:35 remaining on the fourth quarter clock.
After an exchange of punts, the Rams took over on their own 28-yard line. But by then, there was just 4:17 showing on the scoreboard clock. Which turned out to be just enough time for Colorado State to pull off a 48-45 victory with one of the most improbable comebacks in recent memory.
WSU’s prevent defense allowed the Rams to move 72 yards in nine plays and use up just one minute and 28 seconds of precious clock time. Not good.
But when the Cougars offense garnered a first down and Colorado State was out of timeouts, a WSU victory was all but in the bag with 2:30 to play. Right? Wrong!
On first down Halliday appeared to fumble the ball away to the Rams. But a television replay showed that Halliday still had possession of the ball as his knee hit the turf and the fumble call was reversed.
What happened next was the most galling part of this Cougar collapse. With the game clock moving and 20-plus seconds remaining on the play clock, the Cougars snapped the ball immediately.
No one will ever know what might have happened had Holliday allowed those 20-plus seconds to wind down, much less the possibility of the Cougars taking a knee three times and then punting the ball to the Rams with less than a minute to play.
Instead, Halliday handed the ball to Jeremiah Laufasa, who had it ripped from his grasp. The Rams recovered, scored again with 33 seconds to play and then added the 2-point conversion to tie the game at 45-45.
And still all was not lost. Not until WSU fumbled away the ensuing kickoff and the Rams won the game on Jared Roberts’ 41-yard field goal as time expired.
An hour or so later as I worked off my frustrations on a treadmill at the YMCA, an old-timer asked me if I had ever heard of the term Cougin’ It. The answer, of course, was of course.
He then asked me if I could ever remember a more graphic example of Cougin’ It than what just transpired in Albuquerque. I answered truthfully that I could not.
But on a dreary December weekend in which the Zags messed up, Eastern Washington saw its bid for the NCAA subdivision championship thwarted and the Seahawks lose for the first time in two years at CenturyLink Stadium, WSU’s desert debacle was little more than par for the course.
I kept my fingers crossed all day Sunday in fear that Robinson Cano had somehow reneged on his 10-year deal with the Mariners.