After the officials allow for a do-over on a key fourth-down play in the second quarter, Washington State cashes in with a Dom Williams touchdown, which sparks a 38-24 victory over the Sun Devils. With the win, WSU becomes bowl eligible for the second time in the Mike Leach era.
PULLMAN — Call it confusion, karma coming back around, or perhaps — depending on which team you ask — a mistake.
But after coming out on the wrong end of some controversial officiating decisions against Stanford in its previous game, Washington State caught a huge break in the second quarter of its 38-24 victory over Arizona State on Saturday afternoon at Martin Stadium.
Trailing ASU 14-3 late in the second quarter, the Cougars’ offense was at work deep in the Sun Devils’ red zone. On fourth-and-five from the ASU 11, Gabe Marks caught a pass from Luke Falk on the right sideline close to the first-down marker, and was shoved backward by ASU’s Lloyd Carrington.
Falk by the numbers
5 Touchdown passes by Luke Falk on Saturday.
33 Touchdown passes by Falk this season.
46 Career touchdown passes by Falk, tying him with Drew Bledsoe for sixth place on WSU’s career list.
What followed next was bizarre.
On the television replay, it looked as if an official might have whistled the play dead prematurely, and Marks threw up his hands and looked hard at the official on the sideline.
“I was running and breaking the tackle,” Marks said, adding he was still inbounds. “He didn’t even blow the whistle, he like half-blew the whistle, and I was like, ‘Dude, why?’ he was like, ‘I don’t know.’ ”
Confused, Marks nonetheless turned and continued toward the end zone before he was finally shoved out of bounds short of the first-down marker and the whistle was blown again.
The officials conferred, then decided to replay the fourth down due to an “inadvertent whistle.”
Referee Mark Duddy said after the game that because the whistle was blown inadvertently — presumably the “half-whistle” Marks initially heard — the crew had two options.
“One option is the team that had the ball can take the ball at that spot if they have possession. The other option is the down can be replayed,” Duddy said.
Taking the play would have left WSU short of the first down, so it became obvious the Cougars would want to replay fourth down.
“The line judge blew the whistle, the runner was not tackled. He was still inbounds, so by definition that’s an inadvertent whistle,” Duddy said.
The inadvertent-whistle call proved to be a momentum-shifter. On their fourth down do-over, the Cougars struck gold, with Falk hitting Dom Williams on an 11-yard touchdown pass that helped WSU cut the deficit to 14-10.
Arizona State coach Todd Graham was visibly unhappy with the call, but he declined to elaborate after the game, telling reporters: “I’d better not talk about that. It’s been pretty frustrating the last couple of weeks.”
With the victory, the Cougars (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12) became bowl eligible for the second time in Mike Leach’s era.
That fourth-down touchdown flipped the switch for WSU’s offense, which started slowly for the second consecutive week. In the victory against the Sun Devils (4-5, 2-4), this Washington State team, which has had a number of second-half lulls this season, finally showed it could finish a game hot.
WSU outscored Arizona State 21-3 in the fourth quarter and freshman cornerback Darrien Molton intercepted Sun Devils quarterback Mike Bercovici with 1:21 remaining to put the game away.
“I thought as a team, collectively, we finished this game better than we have any game all year,” said Leach. “We’ve done some things like come back against other people, but there was a point where this game was on the bubble and we put it out of reach, which was a thing that as a team we weren’t necessarily very consistent at.”
For much of the first half, the Cougars misfired on offense and defense. WSU’s offense began the day with two consecutive three-and-outs, and by the time Falk was intercepted by Arizona State’s Kareem Orr on the opening play of the Cougars’ third series, WSU already was down 14-0, thanks to rushing touchdowns by ASU’s DeMario Richard and Kalen Ballage.
Alex Grinch’s defensive unit struggled early against the Sun Devils, who racked up 153 yards by the end of the first quarter.
“The first few drives they just went so fast I don’t think we were able to get into a rhythm defensively. We were kinda playing soft,” said nickelback Parker Henry. “It was more us than them those first few drives.”
With the defense struggling to find its form, Falk’s pick deep in WSU territory could have been a death blow. But instead, the Cougars’ defense snapped out of its funk and came up with a big fourth-down stop when Shalom Luani stopped Bercovici for no gain at the WSU 3-yard line.
That in turn galvanized WSU’s offense, which engineered a 17-play, 92-yard drive that chewed up 7:12 on the clock. The Cougars settled for a 22-yard field goal from Erik Powell to begin the second quarter.
The defense steadied itself and forced a big turnover when Kirkland Parker forced a fumble that Marcellus Pippins recovered for the Cougs.
WSU ended the second quarter with the controversial “fifth-down” play that gave Williams his 26th career touchdown.
The second half featured a more motivated Cougars team. WSU’s defense forced the Sun Devils to punt on their first possession of the third quarter and the Cougars’ offense responded by marching 94 yards downfield to score on a 23-yard catch-and-run from Keith Harrington.
With Harrington’s touchdown, WSU took its first lead of the game, and from that point on, it became a true back-and-forth affair.
The Sun Devils regained the lead on their next drive when Bercovici faked a handoff to the tailback, then kept the ball and ran it in himself for a 1-yard touchdown.
But the Cougars jumped out in front again at the start of the fourth quarter with an eight-yard touchdown pass from Falk to John Thompson, and extended that lead when Falk hit Jamal Morrow for a 12-yard touchdown.
ASU managed a 22-yard field goal, but by this point, the Cougars were rolling. The offense finally broke the game open on the next play with a 75-yard touchdown pass from Falk to Williams gave WSU a 14-point lead.
Molton’s interception on ASU’s final possession sealed the deal for the Cougars, who are off to their best start since 2006.