Luke Falk passes for 514 yards and five touchdowns as Cougars go to 3-1 in Pac-12 play

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TUCSON, Ariz. — The Washington State method for winning football games is neither pretty nor safe.

But darn if it isn’t effective.

Saturday at Arizona, the Cougars once again built an early lead. And again they muddled around for most of the second half, placed their fate in quarterback Luke Falk’s hands and were rewarded, this time with a 45-42 victory that leaves them one victory shy of bowl eligibility.

Washington State (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) has won four games in such fashion, including all three in its current winning streak. That 3-0 stretch includes road victories over Arizona and Oregon, the two participants in the Pac-12 championship game last season.

“Every game this season it feels like we’re talking about, ‘This is the game,’ but I guess when you’re winning, every game the pressure gets higher and higher,” WSU wide receiver Gabe Marks said. “This is definitely the biggest win, I feel, this year. Every game we’re just solidifying ourselves and showing ourselves and anyone else that we’re the team that we thought we were.”

The Cougars led by 17 points in the middle of the third quarter, but when WSU started a drive from its 24-yard line with eight minutes left in the game, it was grasping onto a 38-35 lead against a team that had suddenly found offensive life.

Falk’s ensuing drive was the necessary blend of being efficient and time-consuming. None of the first seven plays gained fewer than 7 yards. A 21-yard pass to Kyrin Priester — the talented sophomore had his breakout game — was the longest, allowing the Cougars to bleed 5:58 off the clock.

“He’s very calm and cool under pressure. I thought that was good,” WSU coach Mike Leach said of Falk. “I thought we could have scored some of those touchdowns before we found ourselves in a pressure situation. I mean, if we do all those same things a little earlier, we’ve got a chance to knock them out.”

But that wouldn’t be the WSU way these days.

The drive culminated with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Marks. Quite a few members of the talented WSU receiving corps could have caught the ball, but the fiery and introspective receiver caught the three touchdown passes that built Washington State’s lead, so it was only right that he catch the one to solidify it.

Marks had eight catches for 97 yards in the best game of his career, which came on the same field as his worst. The last time the Cougars played in Tucson — notably picking up their fifth victory of 2013 season — Marks was held without a catch for the only time.

The fourth touchdown bought the Cougars just enough time to hold off the surging Wildcats, who were making up ground just as quickly as their backup quarterback’s legs could carry them.

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez pulled starting quarterback Anu Solomon — who led only two touchdown drives — midway through the third quarter and inserted Jerrard Randall, who promptly ripped off 59 yards on a quarterback keeper.

The Wildcats did not score on that drive, but Randall took them to the end zone on his next two series, breaking up the WSU defense with his speed and emotionally firing up his offense in the process.

But not even Randall was fast enough for the clock after the Wildcats’ final touchdown.

Arizona tried an onside kick, which WSU receiver Dom Williams recovered, and the game ended with the Cougars in victory formation after achieving one last first down.