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Photo Gallery: WSU football ends season with loss in Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl

EL PASO, TX - DECEMBER 31: Washington State wide receiver De’Zhaun Stribling (88) catches a touchdown pass during the second half of the 2021 Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl matchup between the Central Michigan Chippewas and the Washington State Cougars on New Year’s Eve at Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso, TX. Jack Ellis/CougCenter

It was the game that many thought would never be played. Yet, after a last-minute opponent swap, your Washington State Cougars (7-6) faced off against the Central Michigan Chippewas (9-4) from the Mid-American Conference on New Year’s Eve in El Paso.

The game played out like many others this season, with the stout Cougar defense doing just enough to give the offense a chance to bring home the victory. However, this time it was not enough as WSU fell 24-21and will enter the offseason with many reasons for both optimism and concern.

A porous effort on both sides of the ball, plus a myriad of mistakes on special teams — a muffed punt and a bad snap on an extra point, to name a few — dug the Cougars into a 21-0 deficit going into the half. Add on losing offensive staples Jayden de Laura and Calvin Jackson Jr. to injury provided little hope that the second half would be any better. But the boys came out of the locker room with purpose and clawed their way back with a 14-0 third quarter. Suddenly a competition, the Cougs pulled within a field goal but ran out of time to eventually fall in their final contest of 2021.

The final gold star of 2021 goes to walk-on Victor Gabalis, the sophomore gunslinger who was thrust into the spotlight after de Laura went down with in injury in the first half. Gabalis held his own against the Chippewa defense, throwing for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns (the first scores of his career). The young man stepped up when his team needed him most, and he provides insurance going forward should de Laura be plagued by the injury bug once again.

We now enter the darkest time of the year: 35 consecutive Saturdays without Cougar football. Jake Dickert and Co. will be working during this time to finalize the 2022 recruiting class, implement a new scheme on offense, and build on the success of this bizarre 2021 campaign. The last decade has seen bowl eligibility become the standard on the Palouse, so Dickert will be strapped with the burden of expectations for sustained success. Despite Friday’s result, something makes us feel like he is the man for the job.

CougCenter was at the Sun Bowl covering the game’s biggest moments and plays. Enjoy and Go Cougs!

Missed previous photo galleries? Check them out below!

9/4/21 - WSU versus Utah State

9/11/21 - WSU versus Portland State

9/18/21 - WSU versus USC

9/25/21 - WSU at Utah

10/9/21 - WSU versus Oregon State

10/16/21 - WSU versus Stanford

10/23/21 - WSU versus BYU

10/30/21 - WSU at Arizona State

11/13/21 - WSU at Oregon

11/19/21 - WSU versus Arizona

11/26/21 - WSU at Washington