Despite playing most of the game with a backup quarterback and falling down 21-0 early, Washington State was right in it with a chance to win in the fourth quarter of Friday’s Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl.

A furious comeback attempt, though, fell just short and the Cougars saw their season come to an end with a 24-21 loss to Central Michigan. For most of the first three quarters, Washington State could do absolutely nothing against the Central Michigan defense.

After Miami backed out of the initial matchup due to COVID concerns within its program, Washington State campaigned hard to keep its bowl game alive. When Central Michigan saw its own bowl partner back out over COVID concerns, the two came together on an agreement to play at the Sun Bowl.

Washington State would have to prepare for a completely new opponent on short notice, but hey, a game was better than no game.

Through the Cougars’ first 10 drives, however, it looked completely out of sorts against the Chippewas’ defense. Washington State went three-and-out nine times and gained exactly zero yards. There was one possession early in the second quarter where they were able to put something together—seven plays, 62 yards—but things fizzled out in the red zone and came to an end when quarterback Jayden de Laura was sacked on fourth-and-11.

The Pac-12’s freshman offensive player of the year was forced from the game and replaced at halftime by Victor Gabalis, he had just 45 yards passing on 19 attempts. Early on, the absence of Washington State’s starting tackles was clearly noticeable. The Cougars had a horrible time protecting the quarterback off the edge.

It took a couple possessions to settle in during the third quarter, but following a pair of turnovers and a missed field goal from Central Michigan, Gabalis and the Cougar offense found some momentum. They scored on back-to-back possessions to cut the lead to just seven points, with Gabalis leading a seven-play, 74-yard drive and then a six-play, 23-yard drive.

There was controversy when Washington State was ruled short of the line to gain on a fourth-down attempt it appeared to have clearly converted, and Central Michigan tacked on a field goal on the ensuing possession. Those three points proved to be the difference.

Washington State turned it over on downs thrice on its four fourth-quarter possessions.

Wideout Victor Lincoln had a solid game for the Cougars, with 85 yards and a score on four catches. He and Gabalis connected for the Cougars third score late. Gabalis completed 11 of his 23 attempts for 177 yards and two scores.

The Cougars will end their season at 7-6.