Two-minute drill: Meltdown for the Ages

WHAT LOOKED LIKE the best Christmas present Cougar Nation could have asked for came unraveled in just under three minutes as Colorado State bested Washington State 48-45 in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl to crush crimson dreams of the first winning season in a decade. Despite leading by 15 late in the game, the Cougars couldn't hang onto the ball -- or the victory in their first bowl since 2003.

TURNING POINT:
Fourth-quarter fumbles by Jeremiah Laufasa and Teondray Caldwell turned a near-certain victory into a meltdown loss by the Cougars.

DEFENSIVE PLAYS OF THE GAME:
The Cougars surrendered some explosive plays, but also created turnovers and made key stops that helped them maintain the lead throughout the game:

  • Immediately following a Connor Halliday interception that gave the Rams possession at WSU's 31-yard line, Garrett Grayson found Rashard Higgins, who was stripped by cornerback Nolan Washington. He returned the fumble 29 yards to CSU's 44.

  • On third-and-12 from CSU's 18, Grayson was called for grounding after facing heavy pressure from defensive linemen Xavier Cooper and Destiny Vaeao. That forced the Rams to punt from their own 2, which helped result in the blocked punt.

  • Senior safety Deone Bucannon intercepted Grayson and returned it 8 yards to CSU's 27 with 7:57 minutes left in the second quarter.

  • On third-and-7 from their own 40, Grayson was sacked by Darryl Paulo for a 6-yard loss to force a punt with WSU leading 28-13 in the second quarter.

  • With more than four minutes left in the third quarter, senior cornerback Damante Horton forced a Jordon Vaden fumble, which was recovered by Paulo at the Cougars' 34.

    OFFENSIVE PLAY OF THE GAME:
    Junior running back Theron West's 12-yard reception on third-and-3 at CSU's 37, where he spun away from at least one defender, was the most technically difficult play of the game and set up WSU's first touchdown on its second drive. But no play was more important than Kristoff Williams' 15-yard reception on fourth-and-3 from CSU's 35. Two plays later, Halliday found Isiah Myers for a 22-yard touchdown pass with 9:35 remaining in the game that extended the Cougars' lead to 45-30.

    UNEXPECTED DEVELOPMENTS:
    West had just one carry this season entering the game, but he made an immediate impact during the first half. West's third-down conversion set up the Cougars' first touchdown, and he then blocked a punt that gave WSU possession at the Rams' 5. WSU translated that into a 14-0 lead when Halliday found sophomore Gabe Marks for a 1-yard touchdown pass. West then scored his first touchdown with the Cougars when he caught a 28-yard pass from Halliday to extend their lead to 21-7 with 5:27 left in the first quarter.

    INTERESTING STAT:
    Each of the Cougars' five first-half scoring drives spanned between 20 seconds and 1:48.

    MEANINGLESS STAT OF THE GAME:
    CSU had a time of possession advantage of 20:19 to 9:41 and had run 57 plays to the Cougars' 35 at halftime. Despite that, WSU scored a New Mexico Bowl-record 35 points during the first half.

    MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACKING:
    The Cougars need to find a way to start putting opponents away. After taking a 21-0 lead Nov. 23 against Utah, the Utes quickly closed most of that deficit before falling 49-37. WSU then had an opportunity to take a double-digit halftime lead in the Nov. 29 Apple Cup, but missed a chance to score on its final possession before halftime and lost 27-17. The Cougars had numerous opportunities to put the game out of reach, but missed far too many chances. There was no better example of that when WSU faced second-and-4 at CSU's 20 with a 38-30 lead in the third quarter. That drive should have resulted in a minimum of three points. But on consecutive plays, Cory James sacked Halliday for 11- and 10-yard losses and the Cougars were forced to punt. That was not just a matter of Halliday holding onto the ball too long; against one of the worst pass defenses in Football Bowl Subdivision, WSU again was inconsistent on offense for too long. There were too many drops and not enough receivers making big plays. The Cougars' actions after Halliday's fumble was overturned also were incomprehensible. They snapped the ball on second down with more than 20 seconds remaining on the play clock before Laufasa was stripped by Shaquill Barrett. That gave the Rams possession at WSU's 32 with 1:51 remaining. Caldwell's fumble on the kickoff then put Jay Roberts in position for the game-winning 41-yard field goal. The Cougars' defense was far from perfect, either. While defensive coordinator Mike Breske's opportunistic defense means WSU will surrender some big plays, they allowed far too many. Four different plays had either runs or receptions that went for 51 yards or more. It culminated with the Cougars finishing 6-7 – their ninth losing record in the last 10 seasons.

    SPECIAL TEAMS EDGE GOES TO …
    CSU. Caldwell's fumble gave the Rams possession at WSU's 24 and set up Roberts' field goal. Enough said. West's blocked punt gave the Cougars possession at CSU's 5 and translated into a 1-yard touchdown pass from Halliday to Gabe Marks. But the Rams also had their moments. On fourth-and-6 at WSU's 39, CSU faked a handoff and gave the ball to linebacker Max Morgan for an 8-yard gain. That cost the Cougars three points when Roberts capped a 19-play drive with a 19-yard field goal to reduce CSU's deficit to 21-13 with 9:55 left in the first half. But the Rams made a critical gaffe after WSU took a 45-30 lead in the fourth quarter when Thomas Coffman fumbled the kickoff out of bounds to place CSU at its own 2.

    SCORING DRIVES:
    FIRST QUARTER:
    WSU 7-0
    12:32: River Cracraft 25-yard pass from Connor Halliday on third-and-10. Key play: Theron West made a nifty spin move on third-and-3 at CSU's 37 for a 12-yard gain. WSU 14-0
    11:17: Gabe Marks 1-yard pass from Halliday. Key play: Blocked punt by West set up the Cougars at CSU's 5. CSU 14-7
    7:02: Charles Lovett 63-yard pass from Garrett Grayson. WSU 21-7
    5:27: West 28-yard pass from Halliday. Key play: On third-and-10 at the Rams' 31, Joe Kawulok sacked Halliday for a 12-yard loss, which appeared to set up a punt situation. But Kawulok was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct on the play and the Cougars capitalized with Halliday's touchdown pass on the ensuing play. WSU 21-10
    2:52: Jared Roberts 25-yard field goal. Key play: On third-and-1 from their own 38, Grayson connected with Kivon Cartwright for a 51-yard gain. SECOND QUARTER:
    WSU 21-13
    9:55: Roberts 19-yard field goal. WSU 28-13
    6:52: Vince Mayle 28-yard touchdown pass from Halliday. Key play: Deone Bucannon intercepted Grayson and returned it 8 yards to CSU's 27. WSU 35-13
    2:48: Rickey Galvin 3-yard touchdown pass from Halliday. WSU 35-20
    0:59: Kapri Bibbs 1-yard touchdown run. Key plays: After Leon Brooks' 19-yard punt return gave the Cougars possession at CSU's 42, Halliday found Cracraft for 14- and 21-yard receptions on consecutive plays. WSU 35-23
    0:00: Roberts 30-yard field goal. THIRD QUARTER:
    WSU 38-23
    10:43: Furney 33-yard field goal. Key play: On third-and-9 at CSU's 42, Halliday found Cracraft for a 14-yard gain. WSU 38-30
    10:30: Bibbs 75-yard touchdown run. FOURTH QUARTER:
    WSU 45-30
    9:35: Isiah Myers 22-yard touchdown pass from Halliday. Key play: On fourth-and-3 from CSU's 35, Halliday found Kristoff Williams for a 15-yard reception. WSU 45-37
    2:52: Jordon Vaden 12-yard pass from Grayson. 45-45
    0:33: Bibbs 1-yard touchdown run. CSU 48-45
    0:00: Roberts 41-yard field goal.
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