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Washington State takes down #19 Wisconsin, 31-22

A statement that goes far beyond the game of football.

Jack Ellis/CougCenter

The Washington State Cougars defeated the #19 Wisconsin Badgers in Pullman, 31-22.

WSU (2-0) took a commanding 24-9 lead into the half, but surrendered 13 unanswered to Wisconsin (1-1) in the second half. The Cougs were able to capitalize on a late Wisconsin turnover to seize a two possession lead that would ice the game away.

This is a win that means far more than upending a top-25 team. This was a statement to everybody about who WSU was. We all knew what this win would mean to this fanbase. That includes Jake Dickert and this team. They knew what was on the line.

After trading punts to begin the game, WSU broke the ice on their second drive with a Cam Ward deep bomb right into the bread basket to Kyle Williams for 38 yards inside the Wisconsin 10. Williams efforts would be rewarded with a screen pass two plays later to put WSU on the board first.

Wisconsin responded with a grinding 10 play drive that got as close as the WSU 25, but a sack pushed the Badgers back to the 31, holding them to a 49-yard field goal.

WSU strung three straight completions to get into Wisconsin territory before Ben Arbuckle reached deep into his bag of tricks with a beautiful WR pass thrown by Lincoln Victor to Cooper Mathers all the way down to the one yard line. Arbuckle again rewarded the hero of the drive, giving the ball to Victor on a short pass to get into the end zone.

The Badgers again clawed their way down the field, getting inside the red zone this time. Yet again, WSU’s defense held firm to hold the Badgers to just three points.

WSU had little problem dicing through the Wisconsin defense for the third straight possession, but wouldn’t be able to punch in their third straight touchdown drive, having to settle for a Dean Janikowski 46 yard field goal.

On Wisconsin’s next drive, Ron Stone Jr. came flying off the edge to get a strip sack that was scooped up by Brennan Jackson.

Although WSU wasn’t able to do anything with the recovered fumble, Stone and Jackson decided to do it themselves near the end zone for a touchdown. Coincidentally, this happened to line up with an ESPN interview with WSU Athletic Director Pat Chun being asked what WSU’s future will hold. The Cougs getting a huge strip sack touchdown with Martin Stadium ready to explode on national television was a perfect no word answer.

Despite the crowd going into an untamable frenzy, Badgers QB Tanner Mordecai remained poised and delivered a two minute drive into the WSU red zone. WSU’s defense held strong for a third time to hold the Badgers to another field goal for a 15 point halftime lead.

The Badger offense opened the second half with a drive into WSU territory but would be forced into a short punt that pinned the Cougars at their own one yard line. WSU would go three and out and would have to punt it away to the Badgers in short field position. Wisconsin would finally get into the end zone for the first time with a two yard rush from Chez Mellusi to pull the Badgers within a score.

WSU seemed to respond well, getting into Wisconsin territory, but failed to convert a 3rd and 3 at the Badger 42. Dickert elected to punt the ball away rather than roll the dice on 4th and short. Anchored by a big 41 yard pass to Bryson Green, the Badgers capped off a five play, 80 yard drive with a Mordecai 16 yard touchdown pass to Skyler Bell and the Badgers were within two right before the end of the third quarter. The Badgers two point conversion was stopped short of the goal line to keep the Cougar lead at 24-22.

The Cougar offense continued to flail with another three and out to open the 4th quarter, giving the Badgers the ball with all the momentum on their side and a chance to seize the lead for the first time all game. WSU’s defense would hold steady, surrendering only one first down and forcing a Wisconsin punt. Pinned at his own 11, Ward just barely avoided a game tying safety on a Wisconsin sack that was ruled down at the one yard line. Once again, WSU handed the Badgers great field position at the WSU 49. With the game in the balance, WSU’s defense played hero again by forcing and recovering a third Wisconsin fumble for a huge takeaway and momentum shift. Jaden Hicks was the one who forced the fumble. He was a huge difference maker on the defensive side for WSU with nine tackles and two pass deflections. Hicks was flying around all game long and creating big plays just like this one.

Nine minutes to go. Two point lead. Football in Ward’s hands at the WSU 43. In desperate need of a long touchdown drive.

After a short pass to Williams for six yards and an incompletion on second down, Ward found his reliable target in Victor for an eight yard catch and run to move the sticks. On a 2nd and 12, Ward escaped pressure from the Badgers front, stepped up and scampered for a 23 yard pickup to the Wisconsin 24. Ward put the dancing shoes on again on a 3rd and 1 for 14 yards all the way down to the one yard line. Former Badger Nakia Watson delivered the near knockout blow by punching in the touchdown to push WSU back up by two scores with five and a half minutes to go.

On 4th and 6 from the WSU 46, Mordecai delivered one last desperation toss that fell incomplete and turned the ball over on downs. Watson would deliver the final knockout blows with four carries and two game clinching first downs for the 31-22 victory for WSU.

This is a win that could very well catapult WSU into the top 25 or at least to the top of the receiving votes list. But this is so much more than some ranking list. More than capturing another win, a 2-0 start and whatever this could result in down the road for the 2023 season.

Look, this win isn’t going to all of a sudden launch WSU into a new conference. It doesn’t prove to Coug fans everywhere that we belong. We’ve been rooting for the underdog our whole lives. It’s what we love about being a Coug. It’s what keeps us coming back every Saturday and repping crimson everywhere we go. People around the college sports landscape know who we are. This wasn’t putting us on the map. We’ve already done that with Mike Leach, Ol Crimson and the thousands who proudly wear the greatest logo in sports on our chest.

Tonight, WSU Football delivered one big middle finger to the ones who are trying to erase us from the map. Showing to the world, on national television, what they are missing out on. That we do belong with the best of them. That we will not be forgotten. That we truly embody the Cougs vs Everybody mentality. To those who doubted us and our capabilities that we can hang with those big schools. That the small town in the middle of nowhere is capable of doing something special.

This is just another step in the journey of building on something special. The race continues on Saturday back at home against Northern Colorado.