Eastern Washington pulls off upset over WSU, 45-42
PULLMAN – If the 2016 Washington State football season is as successful as the 2015 version, it will be a happy year for the Cougars and their fans.
But the initial feeling of part of déjà vu sure is a punch in the gut, one that knocked the breathes out of 32,952 fans who watched it happen all over again.
Saturday’s 45-42 loss to EWU was WSU’s second consecutive season-opening loss to an FCS team from the Big Sky. Once again, a first-time starting quarterback came into Martin Stadium and made the Cougars defenders look silly, while Eagles wide receiver Cooper Kupp was without a doubt the best player in the stadium of a school that did not think him worthy of a scholarship out of high school.
What made this loss different than last year’s shocker against Portland State was that the Cougars did not stumble out the gates, thereby making the game tense and tentative. Sure, WSU’s offense futzed around for its first few drives, but the Cougars did manage to put itself in the position of control initially.
The Cougars took a 21-14 lead on a two-yard touchdown pass from Luke Falk to Gabe Marks, who caught the fade with one hand in the corner of the end zone. The lead held for all of one play before Cooper Kupp took a pass from Gage Gubrud 75-yards for his own score.
Gubrud was sublime in his first start, completing 34-of-40 pass attempts for 474 yards and five touchdowns. Kupp was incredible, making 12 catches for 206 yards and three scores. He also ran for 29 more yards, and threw a 22-yard pass.
Luke Falk led a WSU offense that was doubtlessly productive –he threw for 418 yards and four touchdowns, and the Cougars had two rushing scores as well. But the WSU offense ran out of gas in the third quarter, when the Eagles took control of the game.
The teams traded blows for nearly two quarters, but the WSU defense finally stepped up and allowed the Cougars to create some distance when Hercules Mata’afa sacked Gubrud on third down with just more than two minutes left in the first half.
Former WSU punter Jordan Dascalo nailed a 48-yard field goal against his former team to end the half.
In every sense it was a season-opener and in college football, where there are no preseason games, that invariably means sloppiness. The contagion of bad tackling quickly spread throughout both teams, and the penalties (11 for EWU, 12 for WSU) quickly followed. Both teams missed makeable kicks, with WSU’s 38-yard wide left offering proving especially costly, since it cost the Cougars a chance to make it a one-score game with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
A flag on Isaiah Johnson-Mack wiped away a Morrow touchdown run, and Falk was sacked by Samson Ebukam on the subsequent third-down play, setting up Erik Powell’s aforementioned missed field goal.
EWU made the most of its halftime, outscoring the Cougars 14-0 in the third quarter and putting the Cougars on their heels. WSU did not score until there was 4:42 left in the game, when Falk reared back and lofted a nine-yard pass to running back Gerard Wicks, who snuck out of the backfield and into the end zone.
But WSU lost the game because of its inability to stop the EWU offense, specifically Gubrud and Kupp. The Eagles milked the clock with a series of run plays on the subsequent drive, setting up an 18-yard play-action pass to Kupp when forced into a third-down. One play later, Gubrud faked a handoff and ran 30-yards through the middle of WSU’s defense for the decisive touchdown.
This story will be updated with additional details and reaction from WSU players and coaches following postgame interviews.