Last Saturday’s 21-point, triple overtime comeback win over the Boise State Broncos got me thinking about other miraculous comebacks in Washington State football history.
And with this weekend’s opponent being a victim of a big comeback last season (and in 2003), I thought it’d be a good time for a nice history lesson.
Some housekeeping: This isn't a ranked list, and I subjectively chose games in which the Cougs had to overcome a double-digit deficit in the second half.
1988 vs. UCLA
Duh. This is definitely in the top three meaningful wins of all time for WSU (1997 Apple Cup and 2003 Holiday Bowl are the other two). The Cougs were down 14 at halftime and then 21 in the third quarter. They even picked off Troy Aikman and needed a first down to secure the win. Of course, they did not and punted the ball back to UCLA. The Bruins got a good return (#Forces, 1988 style) and soon got inside the 10-yard line with a chance to win. You know the rest.
What it meant for the program: Any win against the no. 1 team in the country is historic. That it was WSU—who was 4-3 coming into the game—doing the upsetting is special, given the program’s history. The win jump-started a five game winning streak to end the season, including an Aloha Bowl victory over Houston.
2012 vs. UW
I don’t have to convince you how great this was. The 18-point comeback victory in the fourth quarter sure seems pedestrian after what we witnessed last Saturday, right? Hyperbole aside, this comeback was impressive for many reasons: WSU’s history in Apple Cups, UW was ranked no. 25 coming into the game (that was a big deal back then!), WSU’s circus-like season, and the atmosphere in Pullman was a little dull heading into this game, probably because the student section was half empty, the team was 2-9, and it was the day after Thanksgiving.
But thanks to about a hundred pass interference penalties, a miraculous Gino Simone catch that should have been a pick-six, a missed UW field goal and a Keith Price brain fart, WSU was able to win.
Oh, and Andrew Furney helped, too.
What it meant for the program: Well, it gave Coug fans bragging rights for a year, if that’s any consolation. This game didn’t change much for the program. Oh sure, they went to the New Mexico Bowl the next season (another game with a furious comeback, by the way), but one Apple Cup win did not make a program.
2014 vs. Utah
I think this one is a little forgotten. It came early in a season that saw the Cougs finish 3-9. But WSU was down 21-0 thanks to a pick-six, a punt returned for a touchdown and a 76-yard TD run by former WSU commit Devontae Booker.
And that was just the first nine minutes of the game.
Connor Halliday fought through the wind and rain to bring WSU back. The Vince Mayle touchdown gets a lot of attention, but that block by then-freshman Robert Lewis? Mercy.
What it meant for the program: At the time, things were looking OK. Fans were rejuvenated. Remember, this game was a week after the close loss at home to Oregon.
That Oregon game gave us some hope. Of course, they had already dropped their first two games to Rutgers and Nevada so not everybody was sold. But things seemed to be looking up, right?
Unfortunately, they’d lose six of their next seven and would see Connor Halliday’s career end in agony on the Martin Stadium turf against USC.
2015 vs. Oregon
The Cougs had sandwiched wins against Rutgers and Wyoming between losses to Portland State and Cal heading into this one. We really didn’t know what to make of this team. They had Luke Falk starting at quarterback as a sophomore, but he was still relatively inexperienced (though he did win an intense game at Rutgers).
Oregon was Oregon, but its defense had shown signs of vulnerability. What WSU had going for it was that Vernon Adams was not playing quarterback for Oregon that day, and the Ducks’ coach was Mark Helfrich.
WSU actually led 7-0 early but three Royce Freeman touchdowns gave Oregon a 31-21 lead with a little more than eight minutes to go.
Then the Cougs clawed back, getting within seven. The Cougs forced an Oregon punt and Falk hit Gabe Marks and River Cracraft twice for crucial completions as time wound down. Falk’s fade to Dom Williams with one second left sent the game to overtime. The teams needed two OTs to settle it, and Shalom Luani intercepted Jeff Lockie for the win.
What it meant for the program: We may not have known it at the time, but this was about the time the team settled into its identity. It was the team’s second last-minute win under Falk and propelled them to a nine-win season and the Sun Bowl victory. It was after this game that I thought, hey, maybe we have something here.
1984 vs. Stanford
Before last Saturday, the last time WSU overcame a 21-point (edit: fourth quarter) deficit was in 1984 in Palo Alto against the Stanford Cardinal.
Since WSU doesn't have an archived game recap that I could find, and I can't find much anywhere else, I really can't say a whole lot about this game. But I'm sure it was cool!
What it meant for the program: I wasn't alive back then so how would I know? I do know they went to Oregon the next week and Rueben Mayes set the then-record for rushing yards in a game. So that's what I have for you.
2016 vs. Oregon State
A tale of two halves. After heading to the locker room down 24-6, the Cougs scored 22 points in the third quarter and seven more in the fourth to notch the win. Falk threw five touchdowns, including one that Gabe Marks somehow came down with despite being covered by three Oregon State defenders.
What it meant for the program: The Cougs were in the middle of an eight-game winning streak and avoided a let down against an inferior opponent. It was dicey for a while, but it showed that they can't take any game for granted.
They then went on and smoked Arizona 69-7 a week later.
2003 vs Oregon State
The Beavers held a 25-14 lead heading into the third quarter in this ugly game. Scott Lunde scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and Jonathan Smith added another to bring WSU back.
The teams combined for 12 turnovers, with the Matt Kegel throwing five interceptions. Bananas.
But you already knew that because Craig wrote about it last month.
What it meant for the program: It was definitely a wake-up call. The Cougs had won five in a row heading into this game and were probably feeling pretty good about themselves. Oregon State was no pushover, though. They had Derek Anderson at quarterback and Steven Jackson at running back (not to mention Mike Hass catching passes). The Beavers went on to win the Las Vegas Bowl, the Cougs the Holiday Bowl.
2010 vs. Montana State
The fact that we had to overcome a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter to an FCS team shows how far this program has come. The Cougs needed 16 points in the fourth quarter to get a one-point win against the Bobcats. A C.J. Mizell interception in WSU’s end sealed the victory and you could hear a giant sigh of relief throughout the northwest.
What it meant for the program: Well, this was game 2 of a 2-10 season and a year after they went 1-11, so I’m not sure fans or players were all that impressed. In fact, I remember worrying that if we lost to Montana State, we might go goose egg the rest of the way. So basically, things didn’t get much better.
2017 vs. Boise State
We’ve gone over this game a ton already, but it will go down as one of the more improbably comebacks of all time at WSU. Has there been a more nutty game than this? The 2014 game against Cal is up there, for different reasons.
Down 21 with ten minutes to play? A pick six from Peyton Pelluer? A muffed punt off a guy’s head to regain possession at a crucial time? Backup quarterbacks, a fat guy touchdown and three overtimes?
Whew. It’s nice to be on the winning side of those games.
What it meant for the program: TBD, but I bet the offensive line won't enjoy this week of practice and film study.
- As I said, the deficit to come back from had to be substantial. That's why the 2015 games against Rutgers and UCLA aren't on here. Those were fun, but they were more like a closer blowing the save but getting the win because his team walked off in the bottom of the ninth.
- I'm sure I missed some, so feel free to bring those to attention in the comments. Even if it doesn't fit the subjective criteria I made up, go ahead and include it. Reminiscing is fun.