WSU quarterback Luke Falk has played his final game for the Cougars. He sat out the Holiday Bowl with a left-hand injury and sophomore quarterback Tyler Hilinski earned his first career start against Michigan State.

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SAN DIEGO – As it turned out, Washington State’s Apple Cup loss to UW was quarterback Luke Falk’s final game as a Cougar. Hampered by an injury to his left (non-throwing) wrist, Falk was forced to sit out Thursday’s Holiday Bowl game against Michigan State, and sophomore backup quarterback Tyler Hilinski made his first career start for WSU.

Falk, a redshirt senior, has played with an injured left wrist all year, a source told The Seattle Times. And WSU coach Mike Leach seemed to confirm this Wednesday when he told media at the Holiday Bowl coaches news conference, “He has had something on his hand all year, and hence, we named him the King Slayer.”

Aside from that comment, Leach was, as usual, cryptic about Falk’s injury, saying after the WSU’s 42-17 defeat to the Spartans, “Luke’s doing exactly what we want him to do. Luke’s had a fine career here, and also done a great deal for the program. Probably more than most people will ever realize.”

(GIF by Rich Boudet / The Seattle Times)
(GIF by Rich Boudet / The Seattle Times)

“We felt that Tyler was the ideal guy to start with our lineup today. He’s the one we selected,” Leach said.

A reporter pressed the issue, asking, “Was Luke injured? I’m sorry I wasn’t real clear on that?”

Leach retorted, “You’re going to remain unclear on it, next question.”

He did, however, appear to soften toward the end of his news conference, when he conceded that the team knew going into the bowl game that Falk would not be able to play.

“We had a sense that he wasn’t going to play,” Leach said. “Which is unfortunate because of what he’s done here. But we had to look out for what’s in his best interests and in the best interest of the players.”

Falk dressed for the game and threw passes in pre-game warmups, but, tellingly, it was Hilinski who took reps with the first team offensive line right before the teams returned to the locker room for the final time before kickoff.

When the teams emerged from the locker room and took the field for the game, Falk was in sweats, and Hilinski was suited up in uniform. Trey Tinsley, a sophomore who has never played in a college game, will serve as the backup quarterback.

Questions surrounding Falk’s status for the Holiday Bowl began when Falk was spotted at practice on Tuesday with a black cast on his left forearm, and he appeared to try to hide his left hand from sight at WSU’s bowl events this week, keeping it shoved into his sweatshirt pocket during a tour of the USS Essex.

Falk first came out of the locker room before the game at SDCCU Stadium on Thursday evening with a black glove and a cast on his left hand. He joined the Cougars in pre-game stretching and went down the line of stretching players to shake hands with each of his teammates. He did calisthenics with the team, but appeared to treat his left hand gingerly, barely moving it while jogging back and forth on the field.

Falk spent the game stalking the sidelines in his sweatsuit. On several occasions, he went from position group to position group, trying to pump up his teammates in a game that saw them concede 35 points by the end of the first half.

“Not being able to go out with the seniors that came in and changed the culture of this program, it stung,” Hilinski said of Falk. “He’s a great guy and he’s done a lot of great things for this program and not being able to go out one last time with his teammates was tough.”

Hilinski made his first career start for the Cougars in a game in which WSU was also breaking in some new outside receivers. WSU lost its top two receivers – Tavares Martin Jr. and Isaiah Johnson-Mack – earlier this month, and outside receivers Dezmon Patmon and Tay Martin both made their first career starts against the Spartans.

Hilinski, a 6-foot-3, 213-pounder from Clarement, Calif., went 39 of 50 for 272 yards and threw two second half touchdowns to Martin. But the scores came too late in the game for them to really matter.

“I thought once he got in a rhythm, he did well and push the ball downfield,” Leach said. “The biggest thing was that Michigan State kept us off the field and we squandered some opportunities on third down.”

Until the bowl game, Hilinski had played in seven games this year and completed 91 of 129 passes for 904 yards, with five touchdowns and six interceptions.

Hilinski’s finest moment came against Boise State, when Falk left the game with an injury, and Hilinski went 25 of 33 for 240 yards and threw three touchdowns and one pick to lead WSU to a comeback 47-44 win over the Broncos in triple overtime.

Hilinski also saw substantial playing time when he was called upon to replace Falk against Arizona. However, that game didn’t go as well. Hilinski rushed for two touchdowns and threw for two more scores, but also threw four interceptions in WSU’s eventual 58-37 defeat.

Falk will close out his WSU career with 14,486 career passing yards and 119 passing touchdowns, most in WSU and Pac-12 history.

In addition, the former walk-on from Logan, Utah owns Pac-12 records for pass attempts (2,055), pass completions (1,404), career offense (14,086) and plays (2,306), and is seventh on the NCAA’s career passing yardage list, sixth in career passing yards per game (336.9) and 10th in touchdown passes.

Falk won the Burlsworth Trophy this year that goes to the top former walk-on in the nation, finished as a Davey O’Brien Award semifinalist and was named an All-Pac-12 honorable mention selection.

He’ll leave WSU as the winningest quarterback in school history, having led the Cougars to 27 wins in 40 career starts.

RB Gerard Wicks also missed bowl game due to injury; Jamal Morrow exits

Senior linebacker Gerard Wicks was not dressed for the Holiday Bowl game. Wicks wore his jersey and sweatpants on the sidelines before the game, and did not participate in warmups.

Wicks was injured at the end of the Stanford game, and has missed the last two games due to an unspecified injury, and it appeared that he has not yet been cleared to return to play.

Jamal Morrow, WSU’s starting running back, left the game with what appeared to be a foot injury in the fourth quarter and did not return. WSU finished the game with James Williams as its primary tailback, with Keith Harrington getting a couple of snaps in relief of Williams.

Williams led the Cougars with 10 receptions for 65 yards, and was also the leading rusher, with 14 rushing yards on three carries.

Ryan Leaf in the house

Former WSU quarterback Ryan Leaf, who’s now based in Los Angeles, came down to San Diego to watch the Cougars’ bowl game in person, and was on the sidelines chatting with the team before the game.

This was the first time Leaf has returned to the former Qualcomm Stadium since his career with the Chargers ended in 2000.