PULLMAN – Prior to Saturday, Tyler Hilinski had attempted 39 passes in just more than one season of wearing a Washington State uniform.
But the sophomore quarterback emerged as one of several WSU heroes late Saturday night as the Cougars escaped a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Boise State 47-44 in triple overtime.
Hilinski entered for an ineffective Luke Falk in the third quarter and then replaced the senior for good when Falk was shaken up after getting drilled by a pair of Broncos.
Hilinski tossed 33 passes, completing 25 for 240 yards and three touchdowns. Not bad for a backup who gets limited reps during game week because Falk, an All-American candidate and WSU’s all-time leader in touchdowns, passing yards and total offense, is entrenched at the top of the depth chart.
“Shoot, I was just playing football out there, surrounded by a great group of guys,” Hilinski said. “They told me they have faith in me. I was ready to do my job.”
Boise State certainly did its part to aid WSU’s comeback. Quarterback Montell Cozart tried to flip a pass while being hauled to the turf that resulted in Peyton Pelluer’s 36-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Shortly thereafter, a WSU punt clanked off an unaware BSU blocker and was pounced on by the Cougars’ Dillon Sherman. Hilinski pitched a touchdown pass to Jamal Morrow to tie it at 31.
“After it hit the dude (on the punt), it was destined for us to win this game,” said Morrow, who hauled in the game-winner from Hilinski in the third overtime.
WSU’s offense managed just 211 yards through three quarters before busting loose for 170 in the fourth quarter. Hilinski had a rough start, absorbing a sack and then getting picked off when he tried to flick a pass forward while under duress.
Hilinski showed poise the rest of the way and helped deliver an improbable victory.
“The drives after that (first series) he did a very good job,” said coach Mike Leach, who noted he was “being cautious with Luke.”
Leach had some choice words for WSU’s offense in the first half.
“We were like one of the most constipated offenses on earth,” said Leach, whose team was stuck on 10 points until Hilinski connected with Jamire Calvin on a 17-yard touchdown that trimmed BSU’s lead to 31-17 with eight minutes remaining.
“We were a bunch of cautious patty-cakers out there,” Leach said. “Our offensive line, we weren’t really whipping anybody. I hope they’re not listening to their press clippings. As a matter of fact, I may never say anything positive about them again. That whole first half Boise State did what they wanted to do with our offensive line. They constricted us offensively to the point we were just making these little baby passes.
“We’ve got receivers who think they’re really good players and if you don’t believe me just listen to them talk walking around the halls. They’re getting jammed and beat up on by kids approximately their same age. You have to be violent and beat that stuff.”
The Cougars finished with 455 yards, more than half via Hilinski’s right arm. WSU’s defense scored two touchdowns and gave the offense time in the second half to finally find its stride.
“Turnovers, big plays, Hercules (Mata’afa), the whole defense, Frankie (Luvu) just crushing hits on their quarterback … they were giving us momentum the whole game,” Hilinski said. “They gave us a chance to come back and win.”