For Colorado State fans, it was a moment of delirium. For Washington State fans, it was an ugly nightmare. For the rest of us, we just stared blankly at this strange finish of a game wondering how Washington State managed to blow a victory that was practically guaranteed.
There will always be miraculous comebacks in sports. Teams get lucky and catch a break here and there, and all of a sudden, they pull out an unbelievable win. Look at the New Mexico Bowl last year.
Arizona trailed Nevada, 48-35, in the final minute of the game. The Wildcats threw a touchdown pass with 46 seconds remaining, recovered an onside kick and then threw the game-winning touchdown pass 27 seconds later.
The 49-48 win was highly improbable, but Arizona got a lucky break on the onside kick, and things worked out for the Wildcats.
What happened to Washington State on Saturday, though, was completely inexcusable and should never happen to any football team ever.
The problems for the Cougars began when they got the ball with 6:20 to go in the fourth quarter. Washington State had a 45-30 lead at this point in the game, and all it needed to do was chew up the clock as much as possible.
It is no secret that Mike Leach likes to throw the ball a lot in his offenses; after all, quarterback Connor Halliday threw 58 passes yesterday and had six touchdowns. The team does not rely on the running game very much, but there are some times where you just have to run the ball.
Washington State did open up the drive with a running play in order to take time off that clock.
Then, on 2nd-and-8, the Cougars snapped the ball with 18 seconds left on the play clock. Why on earth would they not run the clock under five seconds and then snap it, given that their only goal at this point is to eat the clock as quickly as possible to end the game?
The Cougars then ran the ball again on second down. On third down, Washington State chose to run the clock down before throwing a pass and picking up a first down.
With a new set of downs, the Cougars opted to run the ball on first down, forcing Colorado State to use the first of its three timeouts.
Coming out of the timeout, the Cougars chose to throw the ball and ended up throwing an incomplete pass, stopping the clock with 4:28 remaining. This decision was somewhat strange given that the Cougars had picked up a decent chunk of yards on each of their last three running plays.
Then, on third down, the Cougars threw another incomplete pass, stopping the clock yet again and not forcing the Rams to use any of their timeouts.
After Washington State punted the ball back to Colorado State, the Rams came down and scored with 2:52 remaining in the game, cutting the lead to 45-37.
After the kickoff, the Washington State offense came out on the field with 2:49 remaining in the game, essentially needing one first down to wrap things up.
The Cougars came out and threw a safe pass in the backfield for a short gain on first down, causing Colorado State to use its second timeout of the game. On second down, the Cougars completed another short pass to set up a 3rd-and-short. Colorado State also used its final timeout on the play. On third down, the Cougars threw it again and picked up the first down.
With Colorado State out of timeouts and only 2:31 left in the game, things should have been over.
The Cougars chose to run the ball instead of taking a knee, though, and they fumbled and turned it over to Colorado State. Luckily for Washington State, the refs ruled that the runner's knee was down before the ball came out, and the team had another chance to run the game out.
Since the play had to be reviewed, Washington State could only run 25 seconds off the clock on the next play instead of the full 40 seconds it could have used had the play not needed to be reviewed. One way to not have a play need a review is to just take a knee.
It did not matter, though, because the Cougars inexplicably snapped the ball with 21 seconds still remaining on the play clock. Then, to make matters worse, the Cougars fumbled the ball on the play, and Colorado State took over.
The Rams eventually drove down the short field and tied the game at 45 with 33 seconds to go. Then on the ensuing kickoff, the Cougars fumbled again, and the Rams were set up to kick a game-winning field goal. Ultimately, Colorado State won the game 48-45.
Let's go back to Washington State's final offensive possession and look at what the Cougars should have done.
With 2:31 remaining in the game after picking up the first down and Colorado State having no timeouts remaining, the obvious thing to do here is just kneel down. By doing this, the Cougars can run approximately anywhere from 140 to 150 seconds off the clock, depending on how long it takes the official to spot the ball after the play and how long it takes the quarterback to take a knee in the backfield on each play.
If done to perfection, the Cougars could have possibly taken up enough time on each kneel-down to run out all the remaining clock, but it is more likely that there would be about five seconds left before the Cougars had to run a fourth-down play.
On fourth down, the Cougars could have chosen a number of things to do. They could have snapped the ball to their quarterback and had him run around in the backfield for a few seconds and then fall to the ground once the clock expired, or they could have gone a safer route and just punted the ball out of bounds.
By punting the ball out of bounds, Washington State could have used the rest of the time on the clock for one final play, without giving Colorado State a chance to return the ball for a touchdown. The Rams' only hope would be to block the kick and return it for a touchdown, and then they would still need a two-point conversion to tie the game.
The fact that Washington State blew the New Mexico Bowl yesterday was inexcusable. Teams work hard to prepare each week for every game, but the fact that it was a bowl game will make this loss sting even worse for Washington State fans—especially since their team had not been to a bowl in 10 years.
All the Cougars had to do was kneel to close out their first bowl win in a decade, but for some reason, they decided to tempt fate. This time, things certainly did not come out in their favor.