Shalom Luani intercepted Oregon quarterback Jeff Lockie on fourth-and-nine in the second overtime period to seal a 45-38 win for WSU at Autzen Stadium. The Cougars forced overtime on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Luke Falk to Dom Williams with one second left in regulation.
EUGENE, Ore. — Washington State 45, Oregon 38 in double overtime.
Would anyone have predicted that result five weeks ago, after the Cougars lost to that other team from Oregon, Portland State?
Saturday night at Autzen Stadium, a Cougars team many had written off earlier in the season delivered an inspired performance to outpace the up-tempo Ducks and notch its first Pac-12 victory of the season.
Safety Shalom Luani sealed the triumph for WSU (3-2 overall, 1-1 Pac-12) when he intercepted Oregon quarterback Jeff Lockie on fourth-and-nine from the 24 in the second overtime, after WSU already had scored to go up by seven points and force Oregon’s offense to match with a touchdown.
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“As a defense, that’s what you play for,” said nickelback Parker Henry, who finished tied with Luani for the WSU lead with eight tackles. “The opportunity to go out and win a game for your team.”
With the victory, WSU ended an eight-game losing streak to the Ducks. It was the first time since 2006 the Cougars had beaten Oregon, and the first time since 2003 that WSU had won in Eugene.
WSU coach Mike Leach stopped short of saying his inconsistent squad had played its first complete game of the year, but said: “I thought we played extremely hard the whole time. I thought we were tough till the end. We could have made it easier than we did, but all sides of the ball rose up — offense, defense and special teams.”
The Cougars leaned on a stout defense, efficient play from quarterback Luke Falk, hard running from tailback Jamal Morrow and an eight-reception, 111-yard effort from receiver Gabe Marks to win their first double-overtime game since the 2008 Apple Cup.
WSU scored first against the Ducks (3-3, 1-2), led 21-17 with 12:39 remaining in the third quarter, and hung within a touchdown of Oregon for most of the game.
But things looked bleak for the Cougars when running back Keith Harrington fumbled at the end of a 32-yard fourth-quarter run and the Ducks — leading 31-21 at that point — recovered with 7:28 left.
The Cougars’ defense, which stuck stubbornly to a bend-but-don’t-break strategy all game, came up big, holding Oregon to a three-and-out and forcing the Ducks to punt.
WSU’s offense drove 55 yards in eight plays, and Erik Powell kicked a 22-yard field goal to get the Cougars within a score of the Ducks.
After the defense came up with yet another three-and-out, the offense got the ball back with 1:58 remaining. Falk, who finished 50 of 74 for 505 yards and five touchdown passes, executed the two-minute drill to precision.
Dom Williams caught a clutch 23-yard pass on third-and 21, Falk hit Marks on a crossing route for 22 yards, and then found River Cracraft for another 22 yards.
Finally came the play Falk has completed to Williams so many times this season — a fade to the back corner of the end zone, executed perfectly for a touchdown to tie the score after the extra point.
Oregon got the ball first to start overtime and the Ducks adhered to the script that had worked for them all game — having running back Royce Freeman romp for big yardage (16 yards in this case) to set up a 9-yard touchdown pass from Lockie to Bralon Addison.
Freeman finished with 246 rushing yards and two touchdowns for the Ducks, and picked up big chunks of yardage on runs of 42, 30 and 49 yards, but the Cougs’ defense corralled him when it mattered most.
“The defense did a good job of giving up the occasional big one but not in streaks,” Leach said.
WSU forced the second overtime with a 1-yard touchdown run from Falk.
This time, WSU had the ball first, and scored on a bizarre play, with Cracraft fumbling as he hit the end zone after catching a 4-yard pass from Falk. But the ball popped into the hands of Robert Lewis, who ran into the end zone to give WSU the touchdown.
Once again, it was WSU’s defense’s turn to step up, and step up it did. Oregon’s final offensive drive ended with Daniel Ekuale hanging on to Lockie’s leg as the quarterback desperately hurled the ball toward the end zone on fourth-and-nine from the 24.
After the game, the jubilant Cougars flooded the visitors’ locker room, jumping up and down and cheering boisterously.
“We’ve been playing everybody so close and to the wire, it was about time we figured out a way to come out on top,” Leach said.
“We know what type of team we are,” said Marks, who notched his third 100-yard game of the season. “This validates what we’ve been preaching all season. We’re a different team, and we can do something different.”
WSU outgained Oregon on offense, 641 yards to the Ducks’ 533. Defensively, the Cougars forced seven punts, one turnover on downs, one fumble and of course, the game-sealing interception.
Still, never one to make emotional proclamations, Leach kept his poker face when asked whether this was the sort of victory that set the program firmly on an upward trajectory.
“I think this is the kind of win you can think about for about 15 hours and then you can forget about it till your grandchildren (ask), and focus a whole lot on Oregon State,” Leach said.
|On the Marks|
|WSU wide receiver Gabe Marks has had big performances against Oregon. He had one touchdown reception two years ago and two more on Saturday.|
|2013 vs. Oregon||13||143|
|2015 vs. Oregon||8||111|