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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Cougs find some stars

Falk, Williams stand out in spring game despite its dichotomous nature

Luke Falk and his Crimson team beat the Gray in Washington State’s annual spring scrimmage because of the quarterback’s superior decision-making and accuracy. Or maybe he just had the best target. The Cougars split into roughly equal squads for the Crimson and Gray game, but the Crimson had Dom Williams, and he was the best player on the field on Saturday. The senior receiver caught eight passes for two scores and 164 yards, most of which came after the catch. Williams jump-started the action when he turned a quick slant into a 55-yard touchdown on the first play of the game’s fourth drive. Until that point the contest had seen just two first downs. “How great did he play today?” queried Falk afterward. “I throw a three-yard pass and he gets 60 yards for you. It makes my job really easy; I’m just the middle man.” Falk is more than that, of course. He’s WSU’s starting quarterback. At least, that’s the reasonable assumption after he fended off challenger Peyton Bender throughout spring practices and had the superior scrimmage on Saturday. While the official final score had Crimson winning, 31-29 in front of 6,217 fans, the score that matters was 31-17. That’s what the scoreboard showed when the quarterbacks of the two basically equal teams left the scrimmage. From that point on, only Gray played offense, and the integrity of the contest broke down somewhat, highlighted by receiver Gabe Marks leaving the sideline without his helmet to strip the football from linebacker Greg Hoyd’s grasp during an interception return. Bender, a redshirt freshman, played well enough this spring to keep Falk on his toes, if not create an outright quarterback competition. “I think I improved on my playing speed, got acclimated to Pac-12 speed getting more and more reps with the ones and the twos,” Bender said. “I just need to keep working hard over the summer, develop my body and continue to get bigger and faster and hopefully when camp comes around, I’ll be ready to go.” But while Falk was able to consistently lead scoring drives for at least field goals if not touchdowns, Bender’s results were pendulous. Falk completed 26 of 33 passes for 323 yards and two touchdowns and Bender was close behind, with 29 completed passes in 42 attempts for 265 yards and a pair of touchdowns of his own. But Bender also made mistakes that Falk has already corrected in his extra year at WSU. Bender missed on one throw that ended up in defensive back Willie Roach’s hands and tested long-armed cornerback Charleston White downfield despite the fact that White had good position on Marks, leading to another interception. A 38-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Lilienthal, however, showed the skills that will keep Falk looking over his shoulder. When Falk tried a similar deep pass later in the game, he couldn’t get enough zip on the ball to prevent it from hanging in the air and giving safety David Bucannon enough time to catch up and bat the ball away. “I was a little nervous, I’m not gonna lie,” Bender said. “Once you get those first few plays out of the way you start to relax and get comfortable. I thought I got into a groove there for a little bit.” The defense collected nine sacks over 112 combined pass attempts. All of the quarterbacks wore white jerseys to make sure they were not tackled, and a sack simply meant a defender was able to touch the passer. “I thought overall our offensive line did a lot of good things because they were playing against people they weren’t necessarily used to playing beside. I thought several of the sacks were on the quarterbacks as much as anything.” The dichotomous nature of scrimmages means that no side really wins or loses in a zero-sum sport; a big play for the offense is a screw-up by the defense and vice versa. But Falk and the Crimson won on Saturday by putting together more successful drives and forcing a pair of turnovers. And by having the best receiver.
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