For a program that needed a win in the worst way, Nico Grasu delivered.
Three games removed from his game winner in the 2008 Apple Cup, Grasu hit a 39 yard field goal in overtime to guide Washington State (1-2) over Southern Methodist (2-1), in the first ever meeting between the schools.
WSU had looked dead in the water earlier, with SMU jumping out to a 17-0 lead on touchdowns by Terrance Wilkerson and Zach Line. The Cougars finally showed some signs of life late in the first half, with Daniel Blackledge catching a three yard touchdown reception from Marshall Lobbestael with :30 seconds remaining.
It was the first start of the year for the sophomore Lobbestael, who completed 24 of 52 passes, netting two touchdowns and two interceptions. Despite struggling for three quarters, Lobbestael got a lift from the Cougar defense until he came through on the final possession of regulation.
With the Cougars trailing 27-13 late in the third, Alex Hoffman-Ellis took an interception from Mustang quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell 52 yards back to the end zone. It sparked a Cougar rally capped by teammate Myron Beck's 67 yard interception return for a touchdown.
That set up the final drive of regulation, with Lobbestael taking the Cougars 80 yards for the tying touchdown with 28 seconds remaining. Jared Karstetter caught the ball in the back of the en dzone on a dart from Lobbestael. The Cougar prevent defense held SMU's potent offense in the final thirty seconds, and the game headed to overtime.
Despite a career day by Bo Levi Mitchell - 40 of 57 passing for 424 yards and two touchdowns - it was his fourth and final interception that cost the Mustangs the game. Chima Nwachukwu picked off a touch pass in the end zone on the first play of overtime to give the Cougars the opportunity to win. WSU struggled to advance the ball on their possession, but gained five yards to set up the game game winning field goal by Grasu.
Player of the Game: Jared Karstetter. Fresh off the football retirement of Jeshua Anderson, Karstetter took the weight of the weakened receiver corps on his shoulders and caught five balls for 63 yards and the game tying touchdown. Karstetter dropped a touchdown earlier in the first half - just prior to the Blackledge TD - but we'll forgive him for that. Cougar players don't have much experience in the end zone lately.
Unsung Hero: Marshall Lobbestael: Even in the midst of calls from the fans for Lopina and/or Tuel, the Lobster regrouped and led the game tying drive with under two minutes to play. While he struggled with accuracy and only averaged 4.6 yards per completion, he threw for two touchdowns and called the signals for both the game-tying and the game-winning drives. Even though the performance wasn't stellar, credit Wulff for sticking with a quarterback and allowing him to dig himself out of his own hole. And, honestly, his first interception wasn't his fault as he got hit as he threw.
Key to the Game: Not to self-promote, but I did say the key matchup would be the Cougar pass defense versus SMU signal caller Bo Levi Mitchell. It was. In the first three quarters, Mitchell torched the Cougar D on four scoring drives, including two passing touchdowns en route to a 24-7 lead. In the final 16:16 plus overtime, Mitchell was torched for four interceptions; two for touchdowns, and another by Brandon Jones preventing the Mustangs from taking a two possession lead with 4:48 to play.
B.S. Call of the Game: Our newest feature - inspired by one of the worst calls I have ever seen in my life. See, what we watched today was a game of "American Football", or "Football" in the slang the kids use. In said game, players run and catch the ball and are "tackled" by defenders. Sometimes, the quarterback floats the ball up in such a way that it hangs their receiver out to dry, with the result being a rather brutal "tackle", by the one (or in this case two) defensive backs that hit him. So, even though the hit by the two Cougar defensive backs was cleaner than the shine left on your dishes from a box of Mr. Sparkle, some "officials" decided to throw a flag for a personal foul. This despite the fact it occurred on a key third and long, on a drive that could have resulted in SMU taking a two possession lead with under five minutes to play. Fortunately, Brandon Jones led the rejuvenated Cougar defense with a diving interception to erase our memory of the earlier penalty.
Play of the Game: The hyphenated pick six by-Ellis was a brilliant play, but let's be honest. No one in that stadium believed we had a shot until Myron Beck took the ball two-thirds of the length of the field on an interception return to bring the Cougars within 27-20. Yes, I know Grasu won it, but he wouldn't have had to had he not missed a chip shot earlier in the game.
It was over when... The Clutchiest Kicker in the World, Nico Grasu, hit the 39 yarder to win it.
Stat of the Game: Paul Wulff is 2-0 in games decided by less than 14 points. In all others... 1-13.