Luke Falk was splendid in the Cougars’ victory, completing his first 20 passes to start the game. He went into halftime with a perfect completion percentage – 20 for 20 — for 175 yards, two touchdowns and a 206.5 passer rating.
The streak is over. After losing five-straight season openers under Mike Leach, Washington State has finally won one.
On the night in which Luke Falk became Washington State’s all-time leader in career touchdown passes, the Cougars beat Montana State 31-0 to begin this season on a different note than any of the previous five under Leach.
“It feels real good. We didn’t have no choice but to win,” said sophomore running back James Williams, who led the Cougars with 13 receptions, 163 receiving yards and two touchdown catches in the win. “If we’d lost this game, coach Leach probably would have been scrimmaging right now.”
Added Falk, “I think we just played a complete game tonight. We went out there and did our job. We have a lot to improve on, but I thought the defense played outstanding having a shutout at home, and I thought special teams we all rose out together and played a complete game. The result is winning. It feels good, but we’ve got a lot of corrections to make.”
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The win also marked the first time since a 42-0 victory against Idaho in 2013 that the Cougars have shut out an opponent.
But it might have come at a cost. Starting left tackle Andre Dillard exited the game on the final offensive series. From the television replays, it looked as if one of Dillard’s teammates rolled onto his right leg at the end of the play. Dillard limped off on his own power and was taken into the Cougars’ sports medicine tent on the sidelines to be examined by athletic trainers.
He re-emerged from the tent later and stood on the sidelines, grimacing whenever he put weight on his right leg.
Leach stuck to his normal policy of not addressing injuries, saying, “He’s 100 percent. Stronger than ever. The most remarkable thing about it is that a lot of times when a guy starts limping around, it crosses your mind that maybe he’s gotten weaker. But the most remarkable thing about it, he literally got stronger and has approximately the strength of 10 men, so we’re excited to unleash that next week.”
Falk was splendid in the Cougars’ win, finishing 33 of 39 for 311 yards and three touchdown passes. He completed his first 20-straight passes to start the game and went into halftime with a perfect completion percentage – 20 for 20, for 175 yards, two touchdowns and a 206.5 passer rating.
His first score of the night came on WSU’s first offensive series. Falk led the offense on a 12-play, 73-yard drive that burned 6:12 of clock and culminated in a 12-yard shovel pass to Williams.
That touchdown pass – 90th in Falk’s career – tied the Cougars’ senior quarterback with Connor Halliday atop WSU’s career touchdown passing list.
Falk took sole possession of that record early in the second quarter. This time, the scoring catch went to Tavares Martin Jr., whose six-yard grab will forever be known as Luke Falk career touchdown No. 91.
Falk said he didn’t know he was close to WSU’s career touchdown record until it was announced on the jumbo-tron during the game, and added that he had no idea he’d started 20 for 20 until the media informed him of this after the game.
“It’s a cool team thing,” Falk said of clinching the career touchdown record. “It’s 11 guys out there doing their job. I don’t know how many (touchdowns) it even is, but it’s a team get, and I thought everyone tonight did a great job on those touchdown plays.”
Falk came within three passes of tying Aaron Rodgers’ 2004 Pac-12 record of 23-consecutive pass completions.
‘I couldn’t be more proud of him,” said Halliday, who watched Falk break his record in person, from the stands at Martin Stadium.
Falk wasn’t the only record-breaking offensive player on Saturday night.
Williams got the start at running back, and by the end of the third quarter, he had 12 receptions for 139 yards and a touchdown – setting new single game records for receptions and receiving yards by a WSU tailback.
Williams led the Cougars with two touchdown receptions, the second of which came on a 24-yard catch-and-run from Falk early in the fourth quarter that put the Cougars up 28-0.
Kicker Erik Powell padded that lead in the fourth when he converted a 40-yard field goal.
Falk’s did not throw an incompletion until the second play of the third quarter, when his pass meant for Isaiah Johnson-Mack fell incomplete.
But amidst Falk’s perfect first half, the Cougars’ defense also put up quite the show.
The defense forced a three-and-out on MSU’s opening possession, and seemed hell bent on tackling Bobcats quarterback Chris Murray into submission.
Murray, who is known more for his athleticism than his passing ability, did not attempt a pass until the 2:49 mark of the first quarter, and did not complete a pass until the Bobcats’ fourth offensive series, when, with 5:48 left in the second quarter, he connected with receiver Mitchell Herbert for a 8-yard completion.
In between, the Cougars defense went after Murray with a vengeance. Hercules Mata’afa had 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss by halftime – and that doesn’t account for two other instances in which he blasted Murray to the turf just as the quarterback released the ball.
Derek Moore, Jahad Woods and Garrett McBroom also took their turns harassing the Bobcats’ quarterback, with each defender notching half a sack as they took a team approach to corralling Murray.
WSU’s defense compiled three sacks and eight tackles for loss in the win as the Cougars held Murray to 28 yards on 5 of 12 passing. That’s the lowest passing yardage total the Cougars have allowed since 1994, when they held Oregon State to 18.
Strong safety Jalen Thompson joined the defensive line in its harassment of Murray late in the third quarter, when he picked off a long pass from the Bobcats’ sophomore quarterback to notch his first career interception.
Thompson had a team-high seven tackles in the Cougs’ shutout.
“It feels good to make coach (Alex) Grinch proud,” Thompson said. “I just did what coach Grinch told me to do. I came in with Robert Taylor and watched a lot of film this week.”
MSU managed only 143 total offensive yards and converted only one of its 11 third downs while WSU finished with 511 offensive yards.
The Cougars went into halftime with 217 offensive yards and a 14-0 lead, and might have led by another score if Isaiah Johnson-Mack had not fumbled on a reception in the red zone that MSU then recovered.
MSU’s best scoring chance came after Johnson-Mack’s fumble, when Murray managed to move the offense 18 yards to give Luke Daly a shot at a 42-yard field goal. But Daly’s kick was wide left.
The Bobcats never found any rhythm on offense. Their longest drive came late in the fourth quarter, when they went 23 yards on five plays against a mixture of the Cougars’ starters and backups on defense.