"You know he's really been coming on," said WSU co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball. "He was a little rusty when he came to camp but he's learning how to practice which gives us more confidence in him. I'm really proud of the way he's responding to coaching and coming out to practice and practicing hard all the time. The harder he practices, the more reps he's going to get and the better football player he's going to be for us."
Mizell, who didn't play football at all last season, had a sack, five total tackles and a critical interception -- the first of his career -- in the game's waning moments that helped the Cougars defeat Montana State 23-22 after trailing 22-7.
But what was most memorable for the kid from Tallahassee was that tunnel. "It felt great. I've been waiting for that ever since I committed here," Mizell said about running out in front of the 26,356 fans. "That's one of the things that made me commit, that tunnel and with all the smoke it just felt so good."
After WSU scored on a 4-yard aerial from Jeff Tuel to Andre Lintz to narrow the score to 22-14, MSU answered with a methodical drive into Cougar territory. On a third down play from the 35, DE Kevin Kooyman tackled MSU QB Denarius Mcghee for a no gain. The Bobcats decided to go for it on fourth down. The Cougars went into a blitz package, and Mizell plowed his way through the line and sacked Mcghee for a 10-yard loss.
"Our guys just picked up the momentum and all of a sudden started believing a little bit and their intensity level picked up," said head coach Paul Wulff of his defense. "We did do a little more blitzing, we started bringing in more people to try and force the issue."
As for the offense, Wulff was matter-of-fact. "We didn't play great on offense, it was pretty obvious, but at the same time I thought Montana State did a heck of a job. I mean holy smokes they were sound, they were where they needed to be and they made plays of defense."
How bad was it? The Cougars' first three possessions of the day resulted in two turnovers and a punt. The first turnover came on the very first play from scrimmage when Tuel fired a picture-perfect spiral right into the hands of MSU linebacker Aleksei Grosulak, setting up a field goal for the visitors.
"Just immature of me that's all I can say about it," Tuel said of the errant pass.
"We knew we were still in the game, one score wasn't going to get us down," LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis said. "The offense wasn't functioning as well as they should so it's our job to go out there and have their backs, I feel like we did a good job of that."
But the final 15 minutes, was where the Cougar defense really picked up the pace, and opened the door for the Coug O to put points on the board.
After the Cougars cut the lead to 22-20 with a 19-yard TD pass from Tuel Jared Karstetter, the defense came up with another huge play that set up Nico Grasu's game winning 18-yard field goal.
With under five minutes left, safety Tyree Toomer shot past the Bobcat offensive line and hit McGhee right as he was about to throw. The pigskin fell right into Hoffman-Ellis' lap. He rumbled down to the MSU two-yard line.
After Grasu's field goal gave the Cougs their first lead of the game with over two minutes left, the Bobcat offense came out on fire, driving from their own 35 to the Cougar 26 with just more than a minute left.
Montana State started the drive at their own 35, but then drove down field, and found themselves on the Cougar 26. That's when Mizell came up with the play of the season for the Cougs and nabbed his first-ever collegiate interception.
"When our defense created some turnovers in the second half, we got some momentum and started playing some better football," Wulff said. "Ultimately that was really good for us to build some momentum and I think a lot of those were pressure interceptions where we got pressure on him (McGhee). Those turnovers were critical obviously for us to get ourselves back in the ballgame."
On the play the Cougs blitzed heavily and Mcghee tried to thread the needle, when the ball was tipped at the line, and Mizell reached out for it in mid-air and trounced downfield for 62 yards and nearly took it back to the house.
"We got some blitzes in the game plan and looking back on it we should have come after him more in the first half," Co-defensive Coordinator Chris Ball said. "We got to half time and we said we got it in the game plan so let’s use them. The kids executed great, got hands on the ball, and caught them."
"When you got so many young guys in the secondary you're a little bit nervous to bring that pressure," Ball said. "In the second half we really didn't have much of a choice we needed to make something happen and made a decision to heat it up a little bit."
The Bobcats got the ball back with 16 seconds left on their own 25, but there was no miracle ending in Pullman for the FCS squad, and the Cougs claimed the victory 23-22.