David Hawbaker / The Daily Evergreen
If you play with fire, expect to get burned.
After escaping with victories in eerily similar fashions the last two weeks, WSU was not as fortunate Saturday as the Colorado Buffaloes stampeded back from a 17-point fourth quarter deficit to beat the Cougars 35-34 in Martin Stadium.
“We are a mentally weak team,” Head Coach Mike Leach said after the game. “As a team we are afraid to be successful. So, when we get ahead we want to relax and enjoy it, which is crazy.”
It was a complete collapse for the Cougars in a second half filled with questionable play calling, poor clock management and flat out uninspired play.
“Like we have been talking about for three weeks now, we need to play better in the second half,” quarterback Connor Halliday said. “We need to not have stupid penalties, receivers need to catch the football, I need to have better reads, the running backs need to run better, as a whole offense we need to play better.”
The Cougars offense came out of the gates oozing with energy in the first half, displaying an up-tempo no-huddle approach headed by Halliday.
It only took 1minute and 37 seconds for Halliday to find wide receiver Gabe Marks for a 32-yard touchdown to put the Cougars on the scoreboard first.
Colorado answered with a more methodical approach as quarterback Jordan Webb found receiver Nelson Spruce for a 16-yard touchdown to even the game up at seven.
It was all WSU the rest of the half as Halliday threw touchdown receptions to receivers Marquess Wilson and Isiah Myers, giving the Cougars a 21-7 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, Wilson added another touchdown after taking a screen pass 49-yards to make it a 28-14 game. Early in the fourth, kicker Andrew Furney added a 45-yard field goal to push the lead to 17.
A complete free-fall ensued from there for WSU.
With eight minutes left in the game and the score at 31-14, Leach opted to go for it on fourth down on the Colorado 19-yard line instead of attempting a short field goal.
The decision turned costly as Colorado player Jon Major intercepted Halliday’s pass at the eight-yard line. A couple plays later, Webb hit tight end Nick Kasa for a 70-yard touchdown strike to cut the lead to 10.
The Cougars offense subsequently stalled and was forced to punt. The Buffaloes began their next possession back at their own 10-yard line, but it proved irrelevant as running back Tony Jones broke an 84-yard touchdown run to make it a 31-28 game.
WSU freshman running back Teondray Caldwell stopped the bleeding a bit when he returned the kickoff 56-yards to the Colorado 23-yard line.
Leach again defied conventional wisdom, choosing to throw the ball instead of run time off the clock, and 46 seconds later the Cougars had to settle for a field goal to make it a six point game.
This was the last time the Cougars would have the lead.
With three minutes remaining and starting from their own 30-yard line, Colorado systematically marched the ball down the field to set up the game deciding play.
After the Cougar defense made three straight stops inside their own 10-yard line, Colorado was faced with fourth and goal on the four-yard line with 12 seconds left.
Lined up in shotgun formation, Webb took the snap and ran into the end zone on a designed quarterback draw. The extra point was successful, and with nine seconds left, Colorado had their first lead of the day.
The Cougars got the ball back with one second remaining, but their Hail Mary attempt was futile and the Buffaloes furious comeback was complete.
After the game, Leach defended his coaching decisions, including his choice to go for it on fourth down instead of attempting a field goal.
“Yeah we should of converted it,” Leach said. “We had wide open space on the field, we should of thrown underneath, we should of got a first down. It wouldn’t of been very hard - I mean it was easy.”
One reporter asked if this game could serve as a wakeup call to the Cougars who will face the No. 2 ranked team in the nation, the University of Oregon Ducks, next Saturday at CenturyLink field in Seattle.
“I don’t know how the hell we’re not awake,” Leach said. “I mean, you know, we’ve got this rich tradition of kicking everybody’s ass, so we are not awake? I don’t know how the hell you can’t be. How can you not be awake? I’m not saying you’re wrong, and the saddest thing is I suspect you might be right.”