David Hawbaker / The Daily Evergreen
The Cougars may have won on the field, but Saturday’s biggest victory happened in Martin Stadium’s revamped stands. The stadium saw a sellout crowd welcome the Cougars in a home-opener for the first time in 60 years.
A sun-soaked sea of crimson chanted, cheered and eventually celebrated a 24-20 victory against the Eastern Washington Eagles, the team’s first win of the season. The crowds gave the illusion the team was coming home fresh off a bowl appearance.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the team has wallowed in mediocrity for nearly a decade after recording three straight 10-win seasons from the years 2001-2003. Nine years later, Cougar faith is as resilient as ever.
Although flying with tattered sails, hopes for the USS Cougar are high with Athletic Director Bill Moos and Head Coach Mike Leach now at the helm. Throw in a new multi-million dollar TV contract and a polished stadium to match and this team has every piece in place to make waves in the Pac-12.
Even after a season opening loss at BYU Aug. 30, the hype surrounding this team is palpable. Maybe the heat has fans deliriously optimistic, but this program truly seems close to bringing something special to Pullman. If Saturday’s student section is any indication, fans feel the same way.
“The fans here are incredible,"Leach said."There’s a personality here that doesn’t exist in other places. It’s a place anywhere any player should be proud to play in.”
“(The student section) is there way ahead of time. (It’s a) really an enthusiastic group, you can tell it’d be a blast to be there,” Leach continued.
In his first start, sophomore linebacker Cyrus Coen said he fed off the crowd’s energy, making a game-changing interception that led to a touchdown for the Cougars.
“Oh man, it was an unbelievable feeling man,” Coen said. “When I caught that ball I was like, ‘Oh my god, what am I doing?' and I started running toward the end zone. I was definitely hyped, it felt really good.”
Kicker Andrew Furney also seemed to feed off the atmosphere, booting a 60-yard field goal to end the first half. The kick was the second longest field goal in the team’s 119-year history.
“Time really slowed down right there after I hit it,” Furney said. “I heard the crowd go crazy, and I just started running.”
Creating an atmosphere that fosters game-changing plays is exactly what Bill Moos set out to do when he oversaw the stadium renovations and hiring of Leach. Though the game came down to the wire, the crowd’s steady roar echoed throughout.
It was just one example of the fan base’s unwavering loyalty to the crimson and gray. Fans are starved for victories, and they’ll take them any way the Cougars serve them. One thing they can’t take anymore is disappointment.
This season is about living up to expectations because the reserve of faith is nearly tapped out. If the Cougars fall flat once more, don’t expect chants, key jangling and painted bellies next season.
While the season is still young, the team certainly has its work cut out. Inconsistency won’t cut it when they begin conference play. Leach will take the win now, but he says the team has plenty of room for improvement.
“What we did well is more than good enough,” Leach said. “We just have to be consistent with it. Right now, we’re a really up and down team.
The pieces for a successful football team are in place. The bar has been set. Now it’s on the team to give fans something to cheer about.