My dad rarely texts, so the message went to my mother: “Too much time,” it read.
“Amen,” came the reply. When you’re a Coug there’s always too much time remaining.
A final Luke Falk-led drive had stalled inside the red zone resulting in a go-ahead field goal by Erik Powell. The problem was the clock.
One minute and 40 seconds. A virtual eternity for a top-five team with a Heisman Trophy candidate holding the reins. Sam Darnold hadn’t been sharp, but he had ample time to march the Men of Troy into the end zone, once again breaking the collective hearts of tens of thousands of Coug fans (and elating the several thousand USC fans) who had made the trek to Pullman for what had proven to be an epic Friday night matchup.
I glance nervously to my left where Anthony, my fraternity brother and travel companion, is trying to drown out the continuous, incessant blaring of “Tribute to Troy” emanating from the USC band.
I feel fortunate to be here at all given how much has changed in the past two months. In August I got married, became co-guardian of a large dog and moved to a llama farm in rural Skagit County (another story for another time). But my wife urged me to go, promising to feed the llamas and walk the dog while Anthony and I embarked for what was once our wheat field-surrounded home away from home.
Anthony and I both arrived at WSU in the fall of 2004 following the greatest three-year stretch in Cougar football history. The team had won 10 games in three straight years, punctuated by Sun and Holiday Bowl wins sandwiched around a Rose Bowl appearance.
Of course the Cougs never came close to replicating that success during our three years together. There were two Apple Cup victories over a then-moribund Washington team. We also witnessed a big home win over a ranked Oregon team in 2006 when Alex Brink exacted his own revenge on the hometown team that had spurned him in the recruiting process, but that was pretty much it for the highlights.
Nevertheless, I consider us fortunate that when we were going to games with our fraternity brothers we still had hope. There were plenty of hopeless days ahead as the program sunk to depths previously unknown under Paul Wulff.
Anthony became a season-ticket holder for several seasons while my sports writing career took me first to The Herald as a part-timer, then to Iowa and finally to Montana, before I rejoined The Herald in 2015.
This is just my third trip to Pullman since 2008.
College Hill is pulsating with energy. Judging by the T-shirts, no fewer than six fraternities appear to be having date dash functions. Signs hang from balconies and riff on the Trojans nickname with varying levels of appropriateness.
The energy carries over to the stands at Martin Stadium. Head coach Mike Leach will later compare the scene to Woodstock, and Falk will call it the best atmosphere he’s experienced in five years at WSU.
The game itself lives up to the hype. The Cougs take leads of 3-0 and 10-7, only to see Southern Cal answer with an 86-yard touchdown run on third down. Then the Trojans pick off Falk at the 1-yard line and appear on the verge of taking a two-score lead. But the WSU defense comes up with the goal-line stand of the season and holds the Trojans to a field goal. The Cougs tie the game 17-17 at the half. In the second half the Trojans tie it up every time the Cougs pull ahead.
That brings us to this juncture, 1:40 away from glorious victorious bliss.
I think back to 2004 when we stood in the rain and hail as Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and the top-ranked Trojans whipped WSU 42-12. I recall 2008 when Pete Carroll had Mark Sanchez take a knee before halftime in a 69-0 dismantling I had only read about.
Yet here we are, hoping to witness an upset a quarter-century in the making.
Turns out the Trojans don’t need all that time. It takes Sam Darnold just two snaps and 13 seconds to fumble away the game, and with it, the final vestiges of the Heisman talk. Anthony and I embrace, and then jump around embracing anyone around us wearing crimson and gray. That’s the beautiful thing about being a Coug: there are no strangers, only family members you haven’t yet met.
As the final seconds tick down, thousands of fans rushed the field, swarming Falk and his comrades in celebration of the biggest Cougar victory in two decades.
Too much time? Nah.
Our time in Pullman had been perfect all along.
Herald Writer Jesse Geleynse graduated from the WSU Murrow College of Communication in 2007. Follow him on Twitter.