The specifics are blury now, 31 years later, but I think it was a fumble that ended the Cougs’ quest for the additional four points that day. The result was disastrous. The Cougars lost 20-18 – putting an exclamation point on a season in which they could never catch a break, losing five games that they had every right of winning.
|Cougars vs. Devils|
|STAT OF THE DAY:|
The Sun Devils scored on 4 of 5 trips inside the red zone, the Cougars 2 of 4.
Jerome Harrison and the offensive line rumbled for 240 net yards.
Questionable first-half officiating that allowed ASU to build big lead.
LEADING WSU TACKLERS:
Eric Frampton 13, Alex Teems 11, Steve Dildine 10
The Cougars (3-6) host Oregon (8-1) next Saturday. Kickoff is at 7:15 pm game. Live TV on FSN. The Ducks beat Cal 27-20 today.
So Saturday afternoon, amidst another jinxed season, when the Cougars stormed back from a 24-7 deficit to tie Arizona State at 27 on Loren Langley’s 25-yard field goal with just more than six minutes left in the fourth quarter, my mind screamed four words --- "Joe Danelo, 1974, Stanford" --– when I spotted the yellow hanky glaring, menacingly, on the FieldTurf.
Arizona State was offsides. If the Cougs accept the penalty, thus taking the three points off the board, they get the ball at the Sun Devil 4 yard line.
It wouldn’t be enough for a first down, but it would be fourth-down-and only one.
You can understand the enticement. The Cougar running attack had been clicking on all cylinders the entire half. And given the generous mood of the Cougar defense, 7 instead of 3 seemed like miles of separation.
Enticing, yes. But what about the rule? The rule: Never take points off the board.
“Don’t do it!” my mind screamed. “Don’t forget Joe Danelo,” I tried to telepathically convey to Bill Doba.
“This is a snake-bit season,” I pleaded. “This is poking karma in the eye. Damn, one kick has already gone off the upright today, don’t tempt fate. Keep the three, hope the defense holds up and then let Jerome Harrison and his band of scrappy hosses run these sagging Devils into oblivion.”
Apparently the telepathy wasn’t working.
“I took points off (the board),” Doba said after the 27-24 loss.
He’s been in this game for a lifetime, first as a hall of fame prep coach and for the last quarter-century in the Big Ten and Pac-10. He knows every rule-of-thumb in the book. He said he couldn’t remember another game when his side took points off the board.
Those words. That phrase. Taking points off the board. Since Joe Danelo in 1974 it’s been ingrained as one of the Ten Commandments: Never, ever, ever take points off the board.
“I had confidence in the offense,” Doba explained. “It looked like … just a yard, I was told it was a yard, I thought sure we could make it.”
His counterpart, Dirk Koetter, also was in the camp throwing out conventional wisdom. "There is no doubt in my mind when they had that field goal and we jumped offsides that they would go for that; the way they were running the ball. I think we would have probably done the same thing had the shoe been on the other foot. That was a huge, huge defensive play."
Harrison, heroic in defeat yet again, with 240 rushing yards on 39 carries, took a toss sweep and didn’t even come close to making the first down.
The Cougars had another chance to tie it, with a 52-yard try from Langley that missed left. But the momentum, and the game, was truly lost when the points came off the board.
Hindsight, as always, is perfect. And there’s no crystal ball that says ASU wouldn’t have answered in regulation or won in overtime.
“I thought about it long and hard,” Doba said of the fateful decision. “The way we were moving the ball and running the ball I thought surely we could get a yard. That is the play we worked on all week. It was a toss. It was our goal-line play. We put the heavy people in to run it and they just didn't execute well enough.
“I just thought we would get a yard and a touchdown we would be up by four. It is tough enough kicking into that wind. If you gave them a short field, a couple of first downs, they kick a field goal and you are down three again.”
Langley, born 12 years after the 1974 Stanford game, was ever the team player at game’s end. He fully supported his coach’s decision.
“I thought we had a shot to go ahead and take the lead. I thought it was a good idea to go for it because we had been doing well,” Langley said. “It's not that big of a deal. If we had got it and then got stopped later I could have kicked another one. That wasn't a big deal to me. I honestly thought it was a good idea and that we should have gone for it.”
Harrison, who tied the Pac-10 record for consecutive 100-yard games, was steadfast, too.
“Can't go against Coach Doba, he's the head coach. If he says go for it, I'm with him 110 percent,” he said.
Quarterback Alex Brink, who completed 21 of 35 passes for 283 yards, perhaps captured it best. “I think we would all be calling it probably the best call of the year if we get that half yard. It that was the way to go.”