The Holiday Bowl built its reputation over 39 Decembers by producing wild results. Tuesday night’s definition of wild was a game involving Mike Leach that didn’t produce a touchdown for either side until the 3:23 mark of the third quarter.
Minnesota’s defense shut down Washington State like few clubs have this season, leading the Gophers to a 17-12 victory in San Diego.
The game started as a typical outing for Washington State, as its first possession moved 76 yards over 17 plays and ended in a 26-yard Erik Powell field goal. A string of four straight punts was ended when Minnesota matched Wazzu’s field goal, a 43-yarder from Emmit Carpenter at the 7:26 mark of the second quarter.
Washington State led 6-3 at the half, but a pair of bad luck plays in the same corner of the same end zone defined the night for both teams. Facing a 3rd-and-22 with 38 seconds left in the first half, Washington State quarterback Luke Falk was ruled to have completed a 23-yard strike to C.J. Dimry, momentarily setting the Cougars up with a 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line. But the completion was overturned upon review, forcing Wazzu to settle for a 41-yard Powell field goal.
After a long Washington State drive to open the second half produced no points, Minnesota took its time crossing the field when it found itself facing its own third down at the Wazzu 13. Mitch Leidner overthrew a streaking Shannon Brooks in the end zone, but Marcellus Pittman inadvertently deflected the ball right into Brooks’s outstretched arms, literally handing Minnesota (9-4) what turned out to be the game’s deciding touchdown.
The clubs traded punts on the next six possessions until Washington State (8-5) went for a 4th-and-6 near midfield with 3:05 remaining. Falk had all day to throw but no one to throw the ball to, and his desperation heave was intercepted by Adekunle Ayinde and returned to the Wazzu 30. Four rushes later, Rodney Smith raced in for a 9-yard insurance touchdown with 2:06 to play. Washington State finally found the end zone with 19 ticks remaining on an 8-yard pass from Falk to Kyle Sweet, but his 2-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful. Falk came in needing two touchdown passes to match the Washington State school record of 92, but that record will have to wait until next season.
Minnesota defended 51 passes from Falk, surrendering 30 completions for only 264 yards — a 5.2 yards per attempt average that stands as the lowest of Falk’s season. Wazzu ran the ball 23 times for 39 yards on the night.
That performance allowed Minnesota to win a game in which Leidner completed 11-of-20 passes for only 129 yards with a touchdown while the Gophers mustered only 151 rushing yards on 3.8 yards per carry as a team.