Well, Cougar nation, it has been a journey. A season unlike any other will conclude on New Year’s Eve when your Washington State Cougars (7-5 record, 2nd place Pac-12 North) face off against the University of Miami Hurricanes (7-5, 2nd place ACC Coastal) in the 87th Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl. But how exactly did we get here? Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and revisit some of the most notable moments of the 2021 football season.
Throughout spring and fall camp, a quarterback battle was taking place on Rogers Field between Tennessee grad transfer Jarrett Guarantano and the incumbent freshman gunslinger Jayden de Laura. From our eyes (and seemingly everybody else covering WSU athletics), de Laura was the clear favorite.
So naturally, when game day rolled around on September 4th, Guarantano was given the nod against Utah State. What was supposed to be a warm up game before facing off against USC in two weeks turned into a nightmare when Guarantano struggled early, was replaced by de Laura at halftime, and an out-coached Cougar squad fell to the Aggies of the Mountain West conference. It should be noted that Utah State finished their season last weekend with a 46-13 bludgeoning of No. 19 San Diego State in the MW championship game, tallying a 10-3 overall record.
WSU first found the win column a week later than expected against FCS Portland State 44-24, but the win did little to calm the nerves of the Crimson faithful for the season to come. The Cougars were then blown out by USC due to more questionable coaching decisions and dropped to 0-2 in conference play when the first road trip of the season at Utah ended in similar fashion. Sitting at 1-3, it seemed likely that the season would be ending before bowl season.
But then, the oddest thing happened. They started to win.
With de Laura now listed as the undisputed starter, WSU flew down south and dominated Cal 21-6 (featuring one of the greatest catches of the season by Calvin Jackson Jr.) before returning home and squeaking out wins against Oregon State (31-24) and Stanford (34-31) in true Cardiac Coug fashion.
A rare October non-conference game against BYU followed, with interim head coach Jake Dickert making his debut. Despite taking the other Cougars to the very end, a few Special Teams mishaps led to a 21-19 defeat by the eventual No. 13 team in the nation. You may have noticed an omission thus far of Max Borghi, and truthfully that is due to how the season progressed for the junior running back. In the final six games of the regular season, Borghi exploded in efficiency, scoring 9 of his 12 touchdowns in the second half of the season.
The next three games saw WSU earn bowl eligibility by claiming ownership of the state of Arizona (beating the Sun Devils 34-21 in Tempe and the Wildcats 44-18 in Pullman) while dropping a tough game against the No. 3 Oregon Ducks.
Resilience and toughness had become synonymous with the 2021 Cougar squad, but would it be enough to reign victorious in Seattle for the first time in over a decade? Yes, apparently, as a 40-13 rout in the Apple Cup ensued and was enough to remove the interim tag from Jake Dickert’s job title.
While the final fans left the field at Husky Stadium on Friday night, Dickert and Co. quickly shifted their focus to post-season possibilities. At that time, everything — including the first Rose Bowl appearance in 18 years — was on the table. But alas, Washington State finished second in the North after Oregon claimed the division with a win over Oregon State the following day. Not too shabby for a team picked to finish last in the division by the Pac-12 pre-season media poll.
So here we are. I’ve had the opportunity to document this team’s journey all season long (minus the California game, never make friends with people who schedule fall weddings) and it has been an absolute blessing. I hope you enjoy some of my best images from the regular season included down below. See you in El Paso!
Links to full galleries from the 2021 football season are below. Enjoy!