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SPORTS EXTRA / COLLEGE FOOTBALL | NOTES

Cougar Is in Place for the Pickings

November 04, 2001|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PULLMAN, Wash. — UCLA quarterback Cory Paus threw the ball downfield with a little more than a minute to play, and the Washington State crowd roared.

You knew who had the ball again.

Lamont Thompson.

Four times Saturday, the ball landed in the arms of Washington State's No. 19.

His four interceptions were a Washington State school record, and gave him 21 for his career, tying the Pacific 10 Conference record set by Chuck Cecil, who played at Arizona.

When the Cougars' 20-14 upset of UCLA was over, the fans carried quarterback Jason Gesser off the field on their shoulders.

But he was looking for Thompson.

"I was trying to find him and give him the game ball," Gesser said. "I finally got it to him in the locker room. He deserved it 100%."

Thompson's first interception came in the first quarter when Ryan McCann--starting instead of Paus, who has a sore thumb--ignored a chance to run and threw into double coverage, helping set up the Cougars' first touchdown.

Thompson's second, third and fourth interceptions came in the fourth quarter off Paus, killing UCLA's attempt to rally.

Twice in the final three minutes, Thompson came up with the ball, first at the Washington State 20 and then at the Cougar 24.

"We should have put him at receiver," Washington State Coach Mike Price said. "He played great, and it couldn't happen to a better person."

If Price sounds fond of Thompson, it is partly because Thompson returned after missing last season with a neck injury discovered during the 1999 season and that recurred during practice the following spring.

He is back for his senior season with a vengeance, with seven interceptions.

The irony of his performance Saturday was that Washington State was focused on stopping the run.

Last week against Oregon, the Cougars gave up an astounding 446 yards rushing in their first loss this season.

"We thought we were hot stuff and we got humbled by Onterrio Smith and Maurice Morris," end Fred Shavies said.

With DeShaun Foster bearing down on them, the Cougars went back to work.

They swarmed him Saturday, holding him to 102 hard-earned yards and UCLA to a net of 85 on the ground.

Thompson's assignment in this week's scheme was to roam sideline to sideline, like a center fielder at free safety.

"It was bad last week, we gave up so many yards," he said. "We just emphasized stopping the run because we knew about DeShaun Foster and we knew their quarterback situation. When it was second and third and long, they had to pass."

And too often, the passes were there for the picking--especially Paus' desperate attempts at the end, playing with a sore thumb.

"I don't know if he wasn't aware of the wind, but he was just floating the ball and it was real easy to get it," Thompson said.

Things rarely seem so easy for the Cougars, who usually have to earn every bit of respect they get.

Now, with their only loss to Oregon and a showdown against Washington in the Apple Cup still ahead, they're still in thick of the race for the Pacific 10 title.

"If we're picked dead last, so be it," Thompson said. "We know what kind of character we have on this team. From the start, all we were talking was Pac-10 championship."

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