Sep. 15—As the clock ticked down to zero and fans poured onto the turf at Gesa Field in Pullman, the emotions Washington State's Brennan Jackson was feeling were magnified by the words a few of those fans spoke to him.
The Cougars had just beat 19th-ranked Wisconsin 31-22 and the sixth-year senior, along with fellow veteran edge Ron Stone Jr., had played a huge part in the instant football classic last Saturday. A Stone sack resulted in a fumble recovery touchdown by Jackson in what was easily the play of the game for the Cougars.
And the fans made sure Jackson felt their appreciation.
"I think the coolest thing was when the fans rushed the field, a bunch of them came up to me and they were like, 'Thank you for staying,' " Jackson said. "I think that just means the world because for us, we're bred Cougars, we want to be here and that's what we bleed — we bleed crimson and gray. So that got me a little teary eyed."
It might not seem like much, but in the new world on NIL deals and constant portal transfers, having players stick it out on the team they started with is becoming more rare.
For Jackson and Stone though, they never considered leaving.
That makes this season bittersweet for the edge-rush duo that's been donning crimson since their redshirt year in 2018. They're the last of the Cougars that went 11-2 and rose as high as No. 7 in the national rankings that year.
But their six-year stint as college football players hasn't always been easy.
There were plenty of highs, like that 2018 season, their Saturday win against the Badgers, going to a bowl game every year, racking up several All-Pac-12 honors and so much more.
But there were also low points, like going through three coaching changes, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and not always living up to their own expectations, like Stone's down statistical season in 2022.
That's what made Saturday's big game all the more fitting for the pair of Cougar team captains.
A rare defensive touchdown
It started with Stone speeding around the left side of the offensive line, beating his man and hitting Wisconsin quarterback Tanner Mordecai from behind for a strip sack.
Mordecai never saw Stone coming and the ball flipped to the turf and bounced into the arms of Jackson at the 2-yard line. Jackson then dragged a 320-pound Badger lineman with him into the end zone for his first touchdown since he was a high schooler in 2017.
That score helped WSU go into halftime with a 24-9 lead and proved to be critical as Wisconsin would later get back within two points in the second half.
It was one of two sacks and forced fumbles on the day for Stone, both of which were recovered by Jackson.
Not a bad Saturday night for the two roommates and longtime friends.
"It's fantastic. We get to go home and take that still-frame and put it on our fridge," Stone said after the game. "For us to both come back and have this success is just a dream come true for both of us."
Captains on the field, roommates off it
Jackson is a 6-foot-4, 264-pound hulk on the football field, but off it he always has a friendly smile and well-spoken demeanor. The Temecula, Calif., native studied business management, is currently a graduate student and always ends his news conferences with an enthusiastic "Hi mom!"
Stone stands 6-3 and 246, and although he has the raspy voice of a "tough guy," he's also constantly smiling and bringing some jokes to lighten the mood. The San Jose, Calif., native is studying communications and has a potential future in a broadcast booth somewhere.
The duo has several nicknames: "RJ and BJ," "1080p" (for Stone's No. 10 jersey and Jackson's No. 80) and probably several more that are just kept between them and their teammates.
"I'm just really proud of those guys for staying the course and trusting the process because it's so hard these days for young people to keep getting better and working on (their) craft," WSU coach Jake Dickert said recently. "I don't know a bigger impact in a certain game from two guys than what they went out there and displayed Saturday night."
The ups and the downs
Stone's two sacks Saturday matched the two he had the entire season in 2022.
Although he still finished as an All-Pac-12 second-team honoree, the '22 season was a down year for Stone. He finished with just 34 tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks, and always seemed to be just inches away from actually getting to the quarterback.
It was a far cry from his All-Pac-12 first-team season in 2021 when he had 63 tackles (34 solo), 11.5 tackles for loss and five sacks.
Dickert said Stone was hampered by some injuries last season that were never really publicly announced.
But Saturday's performance shows Stone seems to be back in top shape.
"At the end of the day, it really just shows how much hard work and dedication pays off," Stone said. "Obviously, coming off a year I didn't have as much success and to do what I did (Saturday), it's like a good extra boost."
Jackson has also racked up several Pac-12 honors over the years, including second-team honors last season when he tied for fifth in the Pac-12 with 12 tackles-for-loss and six sacks.
Stone and Jackson were the only Cougars to land on the All-Pac-12 first or second team last year.
Not done yet
As much as the Wisconsin win was a high point for the team, the Cougars (2-0) are hoping it carries over to the rest of the season.
Stone and Jackson would like nothing more than to end their long college careers with a bowl game victory.
That's why they're hoping that big highlight play against Wisconsin isn't the last of its kind this season.
"Obviously, that was a big part in a big game, but it's important to us to know that we're trying to make a lot of those," Stone said. "And not to let one of them be the only one we have. I think (Jackson) and I have the ability to make some more plays like that."
Wiebe may be contacted at (208) 848-2277, email@example.com or on Twitter @StephanSports.