PULLMAN, Wash. (AP) — California shut down No. 10 Washington State’s vaunted Air Raid offense for most of Saturday’s game, but the Bears could not quite close the deal.
Gardner Minshew threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Easop Winston Jr. with 32 seconds left to lift Washington State to a 19-13 win over California, extending WSU’s long-shot quest to crash the College Football Playoff.
“I thought that it would be a war and it was,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said. “We hung in there, kept our composure and did it.”
Minshew completed 35 of 51 passes for 334 yards for Washington State (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12, No. 8 CFP), which is also seeking its first Pac-12 North title. The Cougars have a 12-game home winning streak, fourth-longest in the nation.
Minshew, a graduate transfer, has thrown for at least 300 yards in every game this season.
“When we get down there, we expect to score,” Minshew said. “We didn’t want to kick a field goal.”
Chase Garbers threw for 127 yards and ran for 67 for Cal (5-4, 2-4).
This is Washington State’s first 8-1 start since 2002.
California kept possession for much of the second half, but managed to score only one field goal in that time.
“Losing is awful and we had chances,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said. “We weren’t able to take advantage of them.”
“We’ve got to find a few more plays in the game in order to win it,” Wilcox said. “That’s where we were short, and they made them, so you got to give them credit.”
Blake Mazza’s 29-yard field goal put WSU up 3-0 early in the game.
After Evan Weaver intercepted a Minshew pass at the Washington State 39, Garbers threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Malik McMorris to give the Bears a 7-3 lead.
Max Borghi replied with a 5-yard touchdown run, capping a 75-yard drive, to put the Cougars ahead 10-7.
Greg Thomas hit a 42-yard field goal late in the first half to tie the score at 10-10. Washington State linebacker Dominick Silvels was ejected from the game during the drive for targeting on tight end Ian Bunting.
Mazza kicked a 36-yard field goal with one second left in the first half to give Washington State a 13-10 lead.
Thomas kicked a 46-yard field goal late in the third to tie the score at 13-13.
Cal was driving for a go-ahead touchdown when quarterback Brandon McIlwain was intercepted in the end zone by Skyler Thomas midway through the fourth. The Cougars drove to the California 13, where Mazza missed a 30-yard field goal with 3:31 left in the game.
“We can’t throw it to the other team,” Wilcox said of the interception in the end zone.
After Cal went three and out, Minshew drove the Cougars 69 yards, ending with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Winston for a 19-13 lead.
“He’s getting better and better,” Leach said of Winston. “He’s one of our most improved players without question.”
Winston caught seven passes for 92 yards.
Cal: The game was a classic showdown between Washington State’s Air Raid offense, which is averaging 40.8 points, and a California defense that is the best in the Pac-12 against the pass. Cal managed to play the game on its terms until the very end.
Washington State: The Cougars are the only remaining Pac-12 team with a single loss, and the Cougars almost certainly need to win out for a chance at their first playoff bid.
Patrick Laird rushed 18 times but netted only 40 yards for California. He also caught four passes for 38 yards.
Washington State should expect to move up a spot or two in the Top 25.
This is the fewest points Washington State has scored in a game all season.
Washington State linebacker Peyton Pelluer had 10 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss. “What he does best is he leads and generates energy,” Leach said.
Cal plays at Southern California next Saturday.
Washington State plays its final road game at Colorado next Saturday.