PULLMAN — Saturday was a memorable day for Washington State football, even if the game itself was not particularly memorable.
The game, in fact, was downright bizarre.
The Cougars held off underdog Eastern Washington 24-20, but only after star wide receiver Marquess Wilson was inserted into the game on defense on the game’s final play and batted away a Hail Mary pass in the end zone.
“He’s good at playing the ball in the air,” WSU coach Mike Leach said casually. “It really shouldn’t have come down to that.”
Wilson’s heroics came at the end of a fourth quarter that saw WSU lose starting quarterback Jeff Tuel with an apparent leg or knee injury; lose a fumble on the goal line; and lose two long touchdowns on holding penalties in the final 2-plus minutes.
The Cougars offset those self-inflicted wounds with the help of a 60-yard field goal by Andrew Furney; the first two touchdown catches of sophomore wideout Isiah Myers’ college career; and a blocked extra point by Toni Pole with 2:17 left that eliminated Eastern’s ability to tie the game with a field goal on the Eagles’ final drive.
The end result was a victory for the home team in the first game at revamped Martin Stadium. The first sellout crowd (33,598) in five years celebrated the stadium’s 40th season of football along with the 1972 team, which held a reunion.
Next up for Washington State is a Friday game at rebuilding UNLV. The Cougars blasted the Rebels 59-7 without an injured Tuel last year, and they might be without Tuel in the rematch.
Tuel walked gingerly off the field after being hit low as he completed a pass on the first play of the fourth quarter. He was in obvious pain when lying on the artificial turf.
“He’s 100 percent,” Leach said sarcastically. “I would, if anything, think he can run a 4.5 (seconds in the 40-yard dash) now instead of a 4.7.”
“He (Leach) took me out because I just basically was feeling too good,” Tuel joked.
Leach discourages anyone connected with the team from discussing injuries. Asked if he’ll play at UNLV, Tuel said, “We’ll see. I’m going to get some work out of the (starting) blocks this week.”
Tuel and the Cougars (1-1) looked better on offense than in last week’s 30-6 loss at Brigham Young. For the second straight week, however, Leach and Tuel were peeved about inconsistency and costly penalties.
“We left 21 (unscored) points out there,” Tuel said. “The game shouldn’t have been that close … we need to stop shooting ourselves in the foot.”
The Eagles (1-1), ranked ninth in the Football Championship Subdivision, ran 18 more offensive plays than WSU and had a 469-355 advantage in total yards. Eastern scored the only six points of the second half.
The Cougars sacked Kyle Padron four times and held him to 26-for-54 passing for 379 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
“I can’t turn the ball over like I did today,” Padron said. “I put my team in a bad spot.”
“Defensively, through the whole game, I felt we played pretty good,” WSU outside linebacker Cyrus Coen said. “You’ve got to give a lot of credit to Eastern Washington. They played a hell of a game.”
Tuel completed 20 of 26 passes for 171 yards, two TD’s and no interceptions. Backup Connor Halliday went 5 for 11 for 76 yards and an interception. One of the late holding penalties cost Halliday a 42-yard touchdown pass to Wilson.
Padron lost one of his favorite targets, senior wide receiver Greg Herd, when he was hit hard in the fourth quarter. The Eagles had no comment about Herd’s status.
WASHINGTON ST. 24, E. WASHINGTON 20
E. Washington 7 7 0 6–20
Washington St. 14 10 0 0–24
WSU–Myers 2 pass from Tuel (Furney kick), 5:42.
EWas–Kaufman 93 pass from Padron (Pavel kick), 5:15.
WSU–Winston 1 run (Furney kick), 1:29.
EWas–Talley 5 run (Pavel kick), 11:46.
WSU–Myers 17 pass from Tuel (Furney kick), 8:17.
WSU–FG Furney 60, :00.
EWas–Kaufman 17 pass from Padron (kick blocked), 2:17.
First downs 22 20
Rushes-yards 30-90 30-108
Passing 379 247
Comp-Att-Int 26-55-2 25-37-1
Return Yards 16 77
Punts-Avg. 8-46.9 7-49.6
Fumbles-Lost 3-0 1-1
Penalties-Yards 10-93 8-75
Time of Possession 29:52 30:08
RUSHING–E. Washington, Talley 14-71, Forte 5-14, Padron 10-3, Adams 1-2. Washington St., Winston 12-67, Caldwell 11-46, Galvin 1-0, Tuel 6-(minus 5).
PASSING–E. Washington, Padron 26-54-2-379, Team 0-1-0-0. Washington St., Tuel 20-26-0-171, Halliday 5-11-1-76.
RECEIVING–E. Washington, Clark 6-61, Herd 6-57, Kaufman 5-142, Edwards 4-54, Forte 2-12, Gehring 1-40, Mitchell 1-9, Hill 1-4. Washington St., Myers 6-58, Bartolone 5-15, Wilson 4-47, Marks 3-77, Galvin 3-30, Winston 2-(minus 1), Lintz 1-12, Ratliff 1-9.