PULLMAN — Seemingly every week, a different Washington State receiver asserts himself into the narrative of a football game and essentially beseeches Cougar fans, “Hey, don’t forget about me.”
Last week it was Renard Bell, who caught two touchdown passes in the Cougars’ uncanny 54-53 win against Oregon State, and whose midfield backflip stamped a premature exclamation mark on the night.
But none of those was his brightest moment.
That came on a remarkable 41-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter, when he used cyber-quick jukes and a spin move to hoodwink at least five defenders. Anthony Gordon, whose throw under pressure on that play was a story in itself, then tossed a shovel pass to Deon McIntosh, who sailed 33 yards for a touchdown to put the Cougs up 21-14.
The Cougars will try to carry their momentum into the Apple Cup against Washington at 1 p.m. Friday (Fox) in Seattle. Both teams are 6-5 overall and 3-5 in Pac-12 play.
Bell, who finished with eight catches for 108 yards against the Beavers, ranks only fifth on the WSU receptions list this season with 43. But the 5-foot-8, 162-pound junior displays a different type of quickness and athleticism than his fellow receivers.
If that wasn’t sufficiently evident earlier in the Oregon State saga, he celebrated Max Borghi’s game-winning touchdown with a round-off backflip in the open field. Just one problem. Two seconds remained on the clock, so the Cougars were assessed a 15-yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff for excessive celebration.
“At first, I thought the game was over,” Bell said this week, flashing his signature smile. “So when I looked back at the scoreboard and saw two seconds, I’m like, ‘I’m gonna get chewed out.’”
Maybe he did. But coach Mike Leach didn’t express any pique when asked during his news conference Monday about Bell’s strengths as a receiver.
“He can do flips and stuff like that,” Leach said. “He has that whole ninja quality out there. One, he’s real excited to play. Guys who are real excited to play are kind of obsessed with it because they enjoy it, and so they improve quicker. Then, he’s a real smart guy. He always knows where he’s supposed to be when he’s supposed to be there.”
Much of Bell’s production against Oregon State came after fellow slotback Brandon Arconado injured his left arm trying to lunge for a catch early in the second quarter. He returned late in the game but in the meantime Bell, as he did earlier in the season when Arconado was sidelined, moved from his usual H position to fill in at Y.
“Renard does an unbelievable job,” Gordon said. “He does everything we ask him to do with a smile on his face, whether it’s H or Y, if he’s our empty guy. Renard’s really smart, real savvy, and he understands our whole offense. If we need him to play outside receiver, I’m sure he could.”
Leach, perhaps half-jokingly, sometimes draws a correlation between optimistic personalities and blind good luck, which is one reason Bell is the Cougars’ lone team captain for pregame coin tosses. The coach described the receiver’s upbeat mood as unrelenting.
“He’s never not like that,” he said. “It really is quite remarkable.”
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