Cougars surge past Stanford, 49-22

November 18, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 18, 2019

Washington State scored 24 unanswered points over the final 19 minutes in a 49-22 victory over the Stanford football team Saturday afternoon.

Both starting quarterbacks recorded more 500 passing yards during the contest, which gave WSU head coach Mike Leach a four-game winning streak over Stanford. But the host Cougars (5-5 overall, 2-5 Pac-12) scored on nine of their first 11 possessions, while the Cardinal (4-6, 3-5) managed just three touchdowns over the same number of offensive drives.

WSU dominated Stanford in three key areas:

• The Cougars mounted a respectable ground game, generating 104 yards on 21 rushes. Stanford was held to six rushing yards on 10 tries, the Cardinal’s worst output in that category since the 2007 squad finished with minus-8 yards on 25 carries in a 23-6 road loss at Oregon State. (Quarterback Tavita Pritchard, now Stanford’s QB coach and offensive coordinator, was sacked nine times for minus-38 in that outing.)

• The Cougars converted nine of 13 third downs. A week after being held to three of 10 third-down conversions at Colorado, Stanford converted four of 11 tries.

• Washington State held the ball for 33 minutes and 54 seconds, an advantage in time of possession of nearly eight minutes. This was only the third time in 2019, and the second game in a row, that the Cardinal lost the possession battle.

The Cougars took a 19-0 lead in the first 18 minutes on the strength of three passing touchdowns from redshirt senior Anthony Gordon, a City College of San Francisco transfer; two of the scoring throws went to fellow redshirt senior Easop Winston Jr. Redshirt sophomore Blake Mazza connected on only the second point-after-touchdown kick, with Stanford outside linebacker Casey Toohill blocking the first and Mazza missing the third.

While WSU — which received the opening kickoff — scored on drives of 72, 96 and 97 yards over 31 total snaps, Stanford was held to 67 total yards on 13 plays. But the Cardinal offense came to life on its third possession.

On the first play of that series, junior quarterback Davis Mills — starting in lieu of K.J. Costello, suffering from an unspecified injury that appears to be his third of the year — threw a 47-yard pass to sophomore receiver Michael Wilson. On the next play, Mills tossed a 28-yard touchdown to sophomore wideout Simi Fehoko.

The Cougars responded by driving 73 yards to the Stanford 11 before freshman safety Jonathan McGill picked off Gordon at the 1-yard line. Stanford then mounted a nine-play, 99-yard series that saw the Cardinal attempt just one, a three-yard gain by Cameron Scarlett on the first snap.

Mills connected with Connor Wedington for 43 yards to convert third down. He subsequently threw to Wilson for 17 and Colby Parkinson for 23 before finishing the drive with a 23-yard scoring pass to Wilson. Freshman Ryan Sanborn’s extra point cut the Cardinal deficit to 19-14 with 1:41 until halftime.

Washington State answered with a 35-yard Mazza field goal with 25 seconds remaining. The score was 22-14 in favor of the hosts at halftime.

Stanford opened the second half with a penalty-ridden possession. The Cardinal was flagged for false starts on consecutive plays and was later docked five yards for an illegal shift. The squad advanced to the home 21 on the strength of a 21-yard Parkinson catch and a pair of pass-interference calls against the Cougars. But the visitors came away empty when Sanborn’s 39-yard field-goal attempt missed to the right.

The Cougars moved 58 yards the other way before summoning Mazza for a successful 38-yard kick that gave WSU a 25-14 lead.

Mills came out throwing following the kickoff. The four-play drive saw him go complete four throws, starting with a 20-yard gain from Scarlett on a screen pass. Mills hit Fehoko for a 54-yard gain; after Wedington lost one yard on a reception, the junior threw a 10-yard pass to Fehoko, making the score 25-22. The touchdown also elevated the sophomore from Sandy, Utah, to second on Stanford’s season scoring list with 36 points on six receiving TDs.

A barn-burner of potentially epic proportions seemed to be developing. But the game was about to take a turn in WSU’s favor.

Sanborn’s kickoff only traveled 58 yards, and redshirt sophomore Travell Harris capitalized with an 83-yard return. Two plays later, Gordon threw a five-yard touchdown to graduate student Brandon Arconado to put Wazzu on top by 10 points.

After the Cougars defense limited Stanford to one yard on six plays, Gordon led the host offense on a seven-play, 52-yard march capped by a 35-yard Mazza kick.

Mills had had an excellent game to this point. But on the fifth play on the next drive he was intercepted by redshirt junior safety Skyler Thomas, who ran the ball back 11 yards to the Cardinal 49. Seven snaps later, Gordon threw a two-yard touchdown to sophomore running back Max Borghi to give the Cougars a 42-22 lead with 7:09 to go in the fourth quarter.

Stanford seemed poised to cut into the lead when Mills threw his second interception, to redshirt junior Jahad Woods, at the goal line. A few minutes later, the Cougars took a 49-22 lead on a two-yard scoring run by Borghi, who finished the day with 111 yards on 15 carries.

The Cardinal moved 25 yards to midfield, but on fourth and two Mills threw incomplete to freshman receiver Elijah Higgins. The Cougars took over with two minutes and seven seconds and ran out the clock, marking only their second possession of the afternoon that didn’t add to their lead.

Both quarterbacks finished with impressive lines. Gordon was 44 of 60 for 520 yards with five touchdowns and a pick, while Mills was 33 of 50 with three scores, two interceptions and a school-record 504 yards. Fittingly, each team had two receivers break the century mark. Arconado had 147 yards and a score on nine catches and Winston was 11 for 107 with two TDs for the Cougars, while Wedington finished with 119 yards on eight receptions and Wilson had 114 yards and a score on five catches.

But with two games left and the Cardinal two games below the .500 mark, Stanford may find it difficult to enjoy the statistical accomplishments. The team’s increasingly more challenging attempt to sustain its school-record 10-game bowl streak will resume on Saturday when Stanford hosts Cal for the 122nd Big Game.

Helpful links

Stanford-Washington State team statistics — ESPN
Stanford-Washington State box score
Stanford-Washington State play-by-play
Stanford-Washington State interactive box score —
Stanford-Washington State statistics (PDF) —
Stanford 2019–20 football roster
Washington State 2019–20 football roster
Game tweets — @memomoment

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