Watson helps Washington State beat No. 19 Wisconsin 17-14

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
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MADISON, Wis. – Nakia Watson acknowledged having extra motivation this week facing his former team.

No wonder he was a little more emotional than usual afterward.

Watson scored both of Washington State’s touchdowns as the Cougars upset No. 19 Wisconsin 17-14 on Saturday. Watson rushed for 522 yards and five touchdowns at Wisconsin from 2019-20 before transferring.

“Normally, I’m not a person that cries,” Watson said afterward. “But I cried a little bit, I’m not going to lie.”

Watson scored on a 2-yard run in the second quarter and put the Cougars ahead for good by turning a short completion into a 31-yard score with 5:12 left in the third period. Watson said he followed the counsel of Mark Atuaia, who continually reminded him to maintain his poise at all times.

He only let his emotions out once the game ended as he thanked Atuaia for the advice.

“The fireworks were going in my head when the clock hit zero,” said Watson, who had 10 carries for 33 yards.

Washington State (2-0) was about a 17-point underdog but survived a game that featured multiple bizarre plays to produce a happy homecoming for Watson and Cougars coach Jake Dickert.

Dickert was born in the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha, Wisconsin, about 65 miles east of Camp Randall Stadium. Dickert played for Wisconsin-Stevens Point from 2002-06, and about 200 friends and relatives gathered for a pregame tailgate.

Several of them hung around for a postgame celebration around the visitors’ locker room.

“I think a few of the are looking for some beers in the fridge that aren’t there,” Dickert quipped. “Just Gatorades and water.”

This game featured two separate plays in which one team intercepted a pass and then fumbled the ball away, creating a first down for the team that threw the pick.

Wisconsin (1-1) trailed 17-14 and faced third-and-6 from the Washington State 9 midway through the fourth quarter when defensive tackle Christian Mejia picked off a Graham Mertz pass before losing the football. Wisconsin recovered at the Washington State 20, but a personal foul on Badgers tight end Clay Cundiff pushed them back to the 35.

Cundiff then caught a 24-yard pass, but Quinn Roff forced a fumble that Sam Lockett III recovered at the 12 with 5:14 left.

Washington State never gave up possession the rest of the way.

Those two mistakes spoiled Cundiff’s day after he had caught two touchdown passes from Graham Mertz in the second quarter, a 17-yarder and a 10-yarder. Those were Cundiff’s first touchdowns since the tight end dislocated his right ankle, broke a fibula and tore a foot ligament in a victory over Iowa last October.

“I had a good first half, but none of that will matter unless you finish on the right foot,” Cundiff said. “I didn’t do that today.”

There was plenty of blame to go around for Wisconsin.

The Badgers were penalized 11 times for 106 yards. Vito Calvaruso sent a 51-yard field goal wide right in the first quarter and was well short on a potential tying 43-yard attempt to start the final period.

“We did some things today that make it hard to win,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said.

Another interception-turned-fumble led to Washington State’s go-ahead score.

The Cougars trailed 14-10 and had third and 10 from their 47 when quarterback Cameron Ward was hit by Kamo'i Latu just as he threw a pass that Wisconsin’s Jay Shaw picked off. Washington State receiver Lincoln Victor then applied a hit that knocked the ball loose, and center Konner Gomness recovered the fumble at the Wisconsin 49.

“I take this one on me, to be completely honest with you,” Shaw said.

Six plays later, Watson caught a pass just beyond the line of scrimmage, made a spin move to get past Latu at the 30 and raced untouched the rest of the way.

“When I spin off him, I see nothing but green grass and I see OP (Orion Peters), one of our receivers, blocking downfield,” Watson said. “He had his guy, and I knew it was going to be a touchdown from there.”

Washington State hung on from there and gave Watson and Dickert moments they’ll never forget.

“My grandma told me something today, your grandpa would be so proud if my grandpa was still here,” Dickert said. “That’s a special moment. Special people that just know me as Jake Dickert. That’s always what we’ve been. I’m just proud to be able to win this game with all of them here cheering us on.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Washington State: Ward went 17 of 28 for 200 yards but threw two interceptions. The Cougars still won thanks to a defense that limited Wisconsin’s vaunted rushing attack to 174 yards on 44 carries. Wisconsin’s Braelon Allen had 21 carries for 98 yards, just the second time in his last 11 games that he’s been held below 100.

Wisconsin: The Badgers controlled the ball for over 38 minutes, ran 25 more plays than Washington State and outgained the Cougars 401-253. But those penalties proved costly. Wisconsin had its highest totals in penalties and yardage since getting flagged 13 times for 125 yards in a 47-44 victory over Purdue in 2018.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Wisconsin figures to fall out of the poll, while Washington State should at least get some votes.

UP NEXT

Washington State: Hosts Colorado State on Saturday.

Wisconsin: Hosts New Mexico State on Saturday.

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told MLive.com after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.