Cougs gain respect, but lose game
Seattle Times staff reporter
PULLMAN — Washington State came achingly close to pulling a memorable upset Saturday night, but USC escaped with a 28-22 victory.
The Cougars gave the third-ranked Trojans a battle to remember before losing in front of a sellout crowd of 35,117 in Martin Stadium.
The game wasn't decided until the final play, when USC freshman safety Taylor Mays from O'Dea High School jumped and intercepted an Alex Brink pass at the 4-yard line as time expired.
"We had opportunities, but we didn't win," said WSU coach Bill Doba. "That is what we have to do. I think we can come away with some confidence that we can play with anybody, but we didn't win, and we have to win."
The Cougars had scored with 4:17 left on a 10-yard pass from Brink to Dwight Tardy to complete an 80-yard drive and cut the deficit to six once the conversion kick was added. They then forced USC to punt. The snap to Trojans punter Greg Woidneck almost sailed over his head, but he snagged the ball and got off a 37-yard punt.
The Cougars moved from their 24-yard line to the Trojans 39, with the final yards on a 21-yard pass to Michael Bumpus.
On the final play, Brink threw in the vicinity of Brandon Gibson and Jason Hill, but Mays made the interception and the Trojans left the Palouse with a nerve-fraying win and fresh respect for the Cougars.
"This is a good group and they're going to give a lot of people problems, and they're going to have a real solid season," said USC coach Pete Carroll.
With the triumph, USC improved to 4-0 (2-0 in the Pac-10) and the Cougars dropped to 3-2 (1-1). It was the Trojans' 49th victory in the past 51 games and extended their Pac-10 win streak to 25 games.
The Trojan the Cougars couldn't stop was senior receiver Steve Smith, who caught a career-high 11 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns. He had extra balls coming his way because All-American Dwayne Jarrett was out with a shoulder injury.
USC quarterback John David Booty completed 23 of 32 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns and was intercepted once.
"Steve Smith just rose to the occasion," said Carroll. "He had a fantastic football game. He made tough catches, great catches, got open well. He just had a terrific game. I thought the throwing of John David was just spectacular tonight. ... What stands out in my mind is those guys hooking up and making plays when we had to."
Smith caught fourth-down passes of 12 and 2 yards on the Trojans' final two touchdown drives.
Brink, who was never sacked, completed 26 of 46 for 287 yards with two touchdowns. He was intercepted once.
Bumpus caught a career-best 11 passes for 112 yards, and Hill caught seven for 49 yards and one TD, the 29th of his career.
Smith appeared to put the game away for USC with 5:52 to play when he caught an 11-yard TD pass from Booty that gave the Trojans a 28-15 lead. His TD completed a 17-play, 83-yard drive that consumed 8:21 but almost started disastrously for the Trojans.
USC's Allen Bradford fumbled the kickoff, and after a big scramble, it was ruled that USC's Mike Brittingham had recovered the ball at the Trojans 17.
"We should have gotten the one turnover we missed on the kickoff," Doba said. "The thing bounced right back in our lap, and we didn't take advantage of it."
In the third quarter, the Trojans scored on a 99-yard drive with a 7-yard pass to Smith to take a 21-12 lead. Cougars had USC pinned at the 1-yard line after Benny Ward downed a 59-yard punt by Darryl Blunt with a backhanded flip of the ball.
The Cougars marched 77 yards when they got the ball but settled for a 20-yard field goal by Loren Langley to cut the lead to 21-15 early in the fourth quarter.
At halftime, the Trojans, who had been 17-point favorites, led only 14-12.
The Cougars got their first-half points on a 4-yard pass from Brink to Hill with 38 seconds to play in the half and a pair of earlier 35-yard field goals by Langley. The Cougars went for a two-point conversion, but Brink's pass missed Cody Boyd.
USC's first-half touchdowns were on a 7-yard pass to Chris McFoy and a 3-yard run by Chauncey Washington.
The Cougars were disappointed but took some satisfaction in proving they were in the same weight class as the Trojans.
"No one believed that we were going to do anything against these guys but our team," said co-captain Mkristo Bruce, whose contributions included a sack that was one of his five tackles.
Craig Smith: 206-464-8279 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company