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For Cougars, extra down seems like just reward

Nov. 7, 2015 Updated Sat., Nov. 7, 2015 at 8:49 p.m.

WSU receiver Dom Williams (80) scores a touchdown against Arizona State during the first half of a Pac-12 college football game on Saturday, Nov 7, 2015, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
WSU receiver Dom Williams (80) scores a touchdown against Arizona State during the first half of a Pac-12 college football game on Saturday, Nov 7, 2015, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – Some very public, very controversial officiating decisions have gone against the Cougars in recent games, with the freshest being an apparent fumble in last week’s game against Stanford that video evidence suggests should have resulted in WSU ball.

Combined with last year’s no-called pass interference against Oregon, and Gerard Wicks’ apparent game-winning touchdown against California that was ruled short in the loss, and many fans of the Washington State football team, and certainly its coach, feel that the inconstant nature of college football officiating has been a net negative for the Cougars.

But even the most conspiracy-prone among the WSU faithful will have to agree that the Cougars got a helping hand from the officials on Saturday.

The Cougars went for it on fourth down from the Arizona State 11-yard line, throwing a sideline pass to Gabe Marks who was stopped well short of a first down by ASU’s defense. But he wasn’t stopped by the time an official inadvertently blew his whistle, causing confusion and, eventually, the granting of a replay down to the Cougars.

“I was running and I was breaking a tackle or whatever and he didn’t blow (his whistle),” Marks said. “He like half-blew his whistle and I was like, ‘Dude, why?’ and he was like ‘I don’t know.’ Then they talked about it.”

After the game, referee Mark Duddy said that because Marks was not out of bounds when the whistle blew, by definition it is an inadvertent whistle, even though Marks’ forward progress appeared to be stopped and both Marks and the ASU defenders appeared to believe the play was dead.

“The rule is pretty clear. We have 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. “So in that situation … obviously Washington State is going to replay it.”

For a heartbeat or two after Marks was pushed back, both he and the defenders believed the play was dead, and began to walk back to their respective teammates. Marks realized he had not heard a whistle and again tried to run for a first down, but was pushed out of bounds by the ASU defenders.

On the fifth down, WSU quarterback Luke Falk hit Dom Williams on a slant route for an 11-yard touchdown, cutting ASU’s second-quarter lead to 14-10.

Still, Leach and the Cougars don’t seem to broken up over having been gifted the extra opportunity.

“Hey, based on this year’s breaks, you know if somehow there’s an evaluation of breaks, I’m looking forward to all of then I’m owed,” Leach said.

Line challenged

Keeping the Pac-12’s best pass rush away from starting quarterback Luke Falk was a stiff challenge with a full complement of offensive linemen. But with Joe Dahl unavailable for undisclosed reasons, the Cougars had to start three offensive linemen at new positions in Saturday’s game.

Left guard Gunnar Eklund took over Dahl’s left tackle position. That wasn’t such a big deal, since Eklund started 12 games at left tackle in 2013 before flipping spots with Dahl prior to the New Mexico Bowl.

Starting right guard Eduardo Middleton took over Eklund’s left guard position, while Jacob Seydel moved into the starting lineup at the right guard spot.

It took the unit a half to adjust. The Sun Devils, who blitz more than any other defense in the conference and also lead the Pac-12 in sacks, sacked Falk three times in the first half and forced him into five hurried throws.

But the Sun Devils didn’t get a sack or a hurry in the second half.

“The second half I thought they played great,” Leach said of the makeshift unit.

Sweet for Cracraft

As far as understudies go, Kyle Sweet does a pretty good impression of River Cracraft. The two went to the same California high school, Santa Margarita in Trabuco Canyon, and they play the same position in WSU’s offense: Y-receiver.

So when Cracraft left the game with an apparent ankle injury, the transition to Sweet, who played in his stead, was seamless.

The true freshman caught seven passes for 77 yards, more than he’d amassed all season in either category entering the game. His 36-yard reception on third down set up WSU’s go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdown.

“He came out there, he was as calm as anybody,” Marks said. “He’s as calm as me and Dom (Williams) and we’ve been here for years. He’s never rattled, you know what I mean? He catches the ball well, doesn’t drop balls and does his job.”

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