PULLMAN – Having worked overtime all week, the gray haze smothering the region took Saturday off, for the most part – the air on the Palouse no worse than if it was just combines kicking up dust in the distance near Albion.
But man, there was something in the air. Still.
Has there ever been more quarterbacking drama – soap and serious – in a football game at Martin Stadium?
Not likely – and given the position’s lineage at Washington State and the craziness Cougars games regularly birth, that’s not just remarkable, but preposterous.
And nearly a footnote, given the even more preposterous events at game’s end.
Consider: Luke Falk sets the Wazzu school career passing and total offense record – more than Bledsoe and Brink and Halliday and that Throwin’ original. And gets benched. Yeah, benched. And that was even before a wicked hit sent him to the sidelines for good.
Consider: Brett Rypien, local boy made good at Boise State the last couple of years and the subject of much homecoming hoo-hah, lasts all of a quarter before an even more wicked hit has him changing into street clothes at halftime.
Consider: Cougars backup Tyler Hilinski manages to take a 20-yard sack and get a panicky shovel pass intercepted on back-to-back plays – and then composes himself to command a critical touchdown drive to keep hope alive.
Consider: Montell Cozart, toiling at this time a year ago in the dead zone of Kansas football, nearly engineering another Boise State takedown of the Pac-12 – until one of the more boneheaded blunders of this or any other college football season.
But finally, consider: What looked like certain calamity for the Cougs – down three touchdowns with 10 1/2 minutes to play – turns into just more lore Saturday night, to say nothing of a 47-44 Wazzu victory.
And not just in overtime. Or double overtime. Triple overtime.
After a review.
It doesn’t happen without two splendid plays by the Cougars defense – touchdowns by Robert Taylor and Peyton Pelluer on Boise turnovers early and late, on top of some spirited digging in just to get themselves back in the game.
And it certainly doesn’t happen without a Boise brain cramp even more costly than the one by Cozart.
It will be replayed often – the brilliant, high punt by Erik Powell perfect for accident-making, the ball ticking off the helmet of Boise’s Reid Harrison-Ducros, the recovery by Dylan Sherman that gave the Cougars the chance for the tying touchdown.
It all made overtime almost an anticlimax. OK, it was an anticlimax.
You just can’t throw four quarterbacks into a story and not have it be all about them. Especially with the record-setting Falk as the headliner.
For a time Saturday night, haze or no haze, it seemed as if the smoke remained in his eyes.
Then again, as we all know from recent conditions, sometimes you’re just desperate to air it out.
Especially after the Cougars’ opener the week before, played against Montana State in the municipality of Dink-and-Dunkville. Facing a team more determined to keep it respectable – whatever that is – rather than do anything daring like, you know, win, Falk saw a steady diet of eight defenders in pass coverage. And Falk was content with leavings – lots of checkdowns, no greedy forces downfield.
It was efficient, it was productive, it was correct. It just wasn’t a lot of fun, even in a wipeout.
So possibly it wasn’t a surprise that after a quarter of more of the same Saturday night, Falk couldn’t help himself. Except his first three deep balls weren’t just incomplete, but ill-advised, and on the sidelines coach Mike Leach looked ready to chew through his headset.
(Actually, a few minutes later at halftime, he nearly chewed through Cougars radio reporter Jessamyn McIntyre’s, spitting out the assessment “pathetic” and nearly punctuating it with something a little more FCC-frowned-upon.)
But then freshman Renard Bell somehow escaped about 20 yards behind the Broncos defense on a scrambled play and hauled in Falk’s rainbow for 59 yards, and held on until just after his knee hit the turf. That the Cougs didn’t get more than a tying field goal out of it made the whole sequence slightly Pyrrhic, but points are points.
But here’s the thing: Those 59 yards, no matter how improvised or accidental or marginally relevant made Luke Falk the most productive at what he does in WSU history.
Here’s the other thing: Less than a quarter later, he was watching from the sidelines.
Remember always – it’s Mike Leach’s world, and the rest of us are just living in it.
Falk would return and then exit again, and Hilinski would look like a hero one play and just a hoper the next – and finally triumphant. But in the end, it was just more grist for gospel in the book of Leach – next man up, play harder, no deficit too desperate.
Sometimes, it seems like blowing smoke.
Just not this night.