The Washington State rallying cry “Cougs Vs. Everybody” has never been more apt than today, when Pac-12 referees invented a new way to screw over the Cougars.
With 11:33 remaining in the 2nd quarter and WSU leading the Oregon Ducks, 10-6, Cam Ward took an intentional grounding penalty on 1st and 10 from the Oregon 41. The call came after much deliberation as to whether Ward had been out of the pocket — he scrambled to his left and made it to the edge of the tackle box before coming back to the middle of the pocket and throwing it away, and the refs eventually determined it was grounding.
Then things got weird.
As WSU came back to the line, you can hear the official near a microphone shouting, “Third! Third!” Eventually the graphic came up on the screen saying “3rd and 18,” and the announcing crew of Tim Brando and Spencer Tillman just rolled with it, albeit hesitatingly.
Leading the game against a strong opponent and facing long odds to convert, the Cougs called a draw on “3rd” and long, which gained a yard. Then they punted (to the Oregon 5).
Wait ... what happened to 2nd down?
Did 2nd down just get ... skipped?
This is how the official play by play tried to make sense out of it:
When the game returned from the TV break after the punt, confusion reigned. After a multi-minute delay, it was determined that 2nd down had, in fact, been skipped, which the lead official announced to the crowd. The remedy: Everyone would just have to pretend that the punt didn’t happen and go back to 3rd and 17.
But ... that doesn’t really solve the problem: WSU forfeited 2nd down with a draw because they thought it was 3rd and long, so now they have 3rd and long again?
The play call was exactly what you would have expected:
Just spitballing here, but I'm guessing this sequence plays out differently if WSU isn't told that 2nd and 17 is actually 3rd and 17 idk idk pic.twitter.com/U2AjRi4weP— Jeff, Continental Champ (@PodvsEveryone) September 24, 2022
“It messed with the flow of the game and how we would call that situation,” WSU coach Jake Dickert said after the game.
Referees have a lot of things to keep track of, but the most basic is the down. They have little rubber bands on their hands to make sure they don’t screw it up. There are eight — EIGHT — of them on the field. None of them realized the mistake? These are guys who blow their whistle and huddle up for minutes at a time for the most mundane infractions to make a-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y sure they got it right.
Dickert did try to tell them:
For what it’s worth, Jake Dickert did try and tell a ref that it was 2nd down… pic.twitter.com/uH3dtWn89x— Jeff Collier (@JeffDCollier) September 24, 2022
“We knew the down was wrong, we told them, and I think they said they were going to review it but they let the play run,” Dickert said. “But I give them credit for, even after we punted – I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that, after a possession to come back and run the play. They got it right, they were dedicated to get it right, they admitted their mistake and we moved on.”
We Cougs are used to garbage like this, though: The “backwards” pass in the 2002 Apple Cup ... the non-PI call against Oregon in 2014 ... Christian McCaffrey’s non-fumble against top 10 Stanford in 2015 ... the non-targeting call against Porter Gustin and USC in 2018 ... a penalty being assessed to the wrong team against Cal in 2019, negating a huge kickoff ...
It gets to be hard to just call it random incompetence when it pops up again and again and again to benefit WSU’s high-profile — and more highly ranked — opponents.
Just add it to the list.