STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — Ed Reynolds returned an interception for a touchdown and No. 17 Stanford sacked Jeff Tuel 10 times to overcome a sloppy offensive effort in a 24-17 victory over Washington State on Saturday.
Reynolds stepped in front of Tuel's pass for the safety's fourth interception — and second returned for a score — this season early in the fourth quarter. He ran 25 yards untouched into the end zone to give the Cardinal a two-touchdown lead and highlight another dominant defense effort that held the Cougars (2-6, 0-5 Pac-12) to minus-16 yards rushing.
Stanford (6-2, 4-1) still produced little separation on the scoreboard due to an ineffective offense.
Josh Nunes completed 7 of 15 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown and Ryan Hewitt ran for a short score. A week after running for a career-high 189 yards against rival California, Stepfan Taylor was held to 58 yards on 21 carries.
If not for its defense, Stanford's Pac-12 North Division hopes might be dashed.
Tuel led a 12-play, 75-yard drive capped by a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kristoff Williams with 6:29 to play to bring Washington State within a touchdown. Stanford managed two first downs before punting the ball back to Washington State.
Marquess Wilson made a leaping 42-yard catch to give the Cougars the ball at the Stanford 23. And on fourth-and-21, Bobby Ratliffe caught a 25-yard pass from Tuel at the Stanford 9.
Then Usua Amanam pressured Tuel as the quarterback threw the ball into the ground for a 15-yard intentional grounding penalty and an automatic 10-second runoff. With Washington State looking for one final heave to the end zone, Henry Anderson planted Tuel into the ground for a final sack as time expired.
Tuel threw for 401 yards and two touchdowns. He completed 43 of 60 passes — mostly short outs that Stanford allowed — but needed one more.
Then again, both teams had few offensive highlights in this one.
Tuel hit Dominique Williams for a 43-yard completion, then went to him again when he floated a 3-yard TD pass to the corner of the end zone that put the Cougars ahead 7-3 midway through the second quarter.
The rare lead for Washington State this season didn't last long.
Just 47 seconds later, Nunes found Jamal-Rashad Patterson on a broken play with the cornerback blitzing and no safety help over the top. Patterson caught the short pass and sprinted down the sideline for a 70-yard touchdown that put Stanford back in front 10-7 on its longest play of the season.
Gabe Marks caught seven passes for 52 yards for Washington State before getting sandwiched by two defenders in the second quarter and limping off the field. The Cougars patiently dinked-and-dunked the ball down field to set up Andrew Furney's tying 24-yard field goal on the final play of the first half.
The momentum never carried over.
Stanford took advantage of a pass interference call on Anthony Carpenter that extended the opening drive of the third quarter. Hewitt bulldozed through the line for a 1-yard TD run — the fullback's first of the season — on third down to give the Cardinal a 17-10 lead, the only drive all game they looked in rhythm.
Reynolds intercepted Tuel's pass and returned it for a score to put Stanford ahead 24-10 with 10:43 remaining. With the offense struggling to control the clock, Washington State made one final charge until the Cardinal defense again flexed its muscles.