Luke Falk led a 10-play, 90-yard touchdown drive, finding River Cracraft with an eight-yard strike with 13 seconds left to lift Washington State past Rutgers, 37-34, Saturday. Falk threw for 468 yards and four touchdowns.
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — The decisive moments in Washington State’s 37-34 victory over Rutgers on Saturday did not come when the Scarlet Knights aroused the ghosts of past Cougars losses with two go-ahead special-teams scores in the fourth quarter.
Nor were the overpowering runs, broken-up passes, unfavorable play reviews or 45,536 rain-drenched but screaming partisans enough to sway the outcome in the home team’s favor.
Rather, the game was decided in the seconds that followed those perilous junctures that threatened WSU’s chances, when Luke Falk collected himself and led the Cougars to the end zone, finally winning it with an 8-yard touchdown pass to River Cracraft with 13 seconds left.
Average yards passing for quarterback Luke Falk in his six career starts for the Cougars
It was a game that, in the eloquent words of wide receiver Gabe Marks, “will either take you all the way to the top or bring you all the way to the bottom in a heartbeat. You just have to learn to keep your emotions in check. You just have to focus on the next play and learn to not get caught up.”
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The most crucial moment came with 1:31 left in the fourth quarter. The Cougars had just thrown the game away with an incomplete pass on third down against a team that had no timeouts, with a return man who had already scored on one kick.
That Scarlet Knight specialist, Janarion Grant, punished the Cougars again for kicking his way with a 55-yard return, which was an efficient way to take the lead for a team that couldn’t stop the clock … probably too efficient.
Falk and the Cougars had already been set on their heels by the earlier Grant return, which gave Rutgers its first lead, 27-23, against a WSU team whose thus-far repressed bad habits — poor throws and dropped passes and penalties — were surfacing.
At that point, coach Mike Leach had a little chat with his offense.
“I pulled up to the offense and said ‘this is pretty exciting, isn’t it? This is real exciting. Do you see how excited they are?’ I said, ‘Do you want this thing to be twice as exciting? March down there and score. It’ll be twice as exciting,’ ” Leach said. “And it was.”
The team, defense included, assumed the even-keeled personality of its coach and quarterback, but only after some setbacks. Over 4:34, encompassing the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarters, WSU’s defense gave up a pair of touchdowns.
Robert Martin scored on a 15-yard run for Rutgers.
Two penalties cost the defense 30 yards on its next drive, which ended with a 1-yard touchdown pass from Rutgers’ Chris Laviano to Leonte Carroo. After that, the defense forced a fumble and a punt to end the final two Scarlet Knights drives.
“Credit to Rutgers, but it came down to us focusing on ourselves, the defense,” said sophomore linebacker Peyton Pelluer. “If we go out every play like we have been doing in practice, then we can stop them.”
Whereas Falk occasionally missed open receivers when the Cougars had a less tenuous lead, he threw darts to open the win-or-lose final drive. Falk completed consecutive passes of 23 and 24 yards to Cracraft, eating up half of the 90 yards needed to score.
The Cougars converted on fourth down with a 12-yard pass to Robert Lewis and scored when running back Keith Harrington took a screen pass 30 yards. Except it didn’t happen. A replay showed that Harrington had stepped out of bounds at the 21-yard line.
But the Cougars were still able to get the final result they wanted. Falk rushed for 13 yards to the Rutgers 8-yard line, where he was sandwiched by Kiy Hester and Steve Longa.
“I think on the last drive you can’t slide,” Falk said. “You have to show your team that you’re trying to win.”
Which he did on the next play, lofting the pass to Cracraft, leaving the Scarlet Knights no time for a counterpunch, only a comical kick return comprised of desperate laterals.