Washington State’s hopes for a Pac-12 North Division title are still alive, despite the 38-24 loss to No. 12 Colorado.

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BOULDER, Colo. — It was a slugfest. One of Washington State’s messiest games of the season.

The first matchup of this decade between ranked teams at Colorado’s Folsom Field was a back-and-forth affair that featured four lead changes, but when it was all over, the 20th-ranked Cougars (8-3, 7-1 Pac-12) stood defeated, 38-24, their win streak snapped at eight as Colorado handed them their first loss since their Sept. 10 defeat at Boise State.

No. 12 Colorado improved to 9-2, 7-1 in the Pac-12, and with Utah’s defeat to Oregon earlier in the afternoon, the Buffaloes can clinch the Pac-12 South if USC loses to UCLA on Saturday night.

Apple cup

Friday, UW @ WSU, 12:30 p.m., Ch. 13

The good news for WSU is that this game had no bearing on its Pac-12 North title hopes. The Cougars and Huskies go into next week’s Apple Cup with one Pac-12 loss each, and the winner will earn passage to the Pac-12 championship game.

The Cougars’ defense gave up 603 yards (the most since they allowed 606 in their season-opening defeat to Eastern Washington), allowed Colorado to run 100 plays and never quite managed to corral Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau, who ran for three touchdowns.

Liufau finished with 345 pass yards and 108 rush yards. Colorado tailback Phillip Lindsay was equally unstoppable. He had 31 carries for 144 yards and two touchdowns in the Buffaloes’ victory.

Tacoma native Liufau hurt the Cougars on quarterback runs late in the game.

“I thought he did a really good job. He’s tough to bring down and he’ll get a few extra yards. He deserves some credit,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “The biggest thing is I didn’t think we consistently did our job on offense or defense.”

From start to finish, the Cougars were plagued by a multitude of errors in all three phases of play. Kyle Sweet hit a bad punt in the first half that went for 1 yard and WSU’s receivers had some costly drops early in the game — including a tough one in the end zone by Gabe Marks in the second quarter that would have resulted in a touchdown and potentially put WSU up 21-7.

The Cougars’ defense looked porous up the middle and missed some tackles, allowing the Buffaloes’ creative skill players to slip by them and pick up valuable yards after contact. Liufau also proved so slippery that on multiple occasions the Cougars’ defense got to him just as he released the ball.

“The dude knows how to play ball,” said WSU defensive end Hercules Mata’afa, who had the Cougars’ only sack. “He’s fast and he’s athletic. I just couldn’t get there fast enough.”

Despite all the miscues, the Cougars were in this one almost until the bitter end.

Trailing Colorado 21-17 at a crucial juncture late in the third quarter, WSU — which to that point had scored on two Luke Falk touchdown passes and an Erik Powell field goal — finally found some traction with its run game.

On fourth-and-one, Jamal Morrow broke through the line and found grass, motoring upfield for a 30-yard pickup. Two plays later, it was Gerard Wicks with a 21-yard gain that set up Falk’s third touchdown pass of the day — this time a 7-yard score to John Thompson to put the Cougs back in front, 24-21.

Not for long, however.

From that point on, the Buffaloes took over, scoring 17 unanswered points. Liufau had his third rushing touchdown of the day (an 11-yard score), Colorado kicker Chris Graham nailed a 46-yard field goal and Lindsay punctuated Colorado’s late surge with a 13-yard rushing touchdown that gave Colorado a 38-24 lead with 4:18 remaining.

The Cougars had their chances to mount a comeback late in the game, but the Buffaloes’ defense held up well against the Air Raid when it mattered most. Colorado only sacked Falk twice, but both sacks came at critical moments.

WSU’s penultimate offensive drive ended with Falk taking a sack from Jimmie Gilbert and fumbling. Addison Gilliam — who had ended WSU’s previous drive with a third-down sack on Falk — recovered.

The Cougars got one final crack on offense with under a minute left after Colorado turned the ball over on downs, but that ended when Tedric Thompson intercepted Falk with 15 seconds remaining to ice the game for Colorado.

“We weren’t able to finish drives. We left a lot on the field and just didn’t play to our full potential,” said Morrow, who led WSU with 135 all-purpose yards and scored on a 46-yard pass from Falk in the first half. “We felt like we still had a chance as long as there was time on the clock. But the key drive (for Colorado) was probably the second drive where Luke got sacked and they went down to score.”

Falk finished 26 of 53 for 325 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. The Cougars put up 462 offensive yards to Colorado’s 603, and were held to 4 of 15 on third downs.

“I think we definitely missed some opportunities early on,” Falk said. “We were moving down there, just didn’t convert on fourth down, just had a couple miscues, and couple of missed communications.

“I was in a rhythm that first half and just couldn’t get in a rhythm in that second half. We’ll make the corrections we need and get better.”