PASADENA, Calif.—Washington State’s game in college football’s most iconic stadium on Saturday wasn’t for the Rose Bowl, even if it was played there.
Still the 76,255 fans in attendance saw a contest worthy of the setting: a 31-27 WSU victory over No. 18 UCLA that added to Luke Falk’s legend like a victory in Pasadena should.
Falk led a seven-play 75-yard drive to put the Cougars up with 3 seconds left when he threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Gabe Marks for the win. The throw also gave him the school’s single-season passing touchdown record with three games left, including a bowl.
Falk was injured with just under 3 minutes left in the first half when he was slammed to the turf by Jacob Tuioti-Mariner. Trainers attended to Falk on the field, helping him to his feet and to the sideline. After further examination, Falk was taken to the locker room and did not return.
Until the second half. Until he led the Cougars back from a two-point halftime deficit with a go-ahead touchdown drive on his first series back in the game, giving WSU a lead it did not relinquish until late in the fourth quarter. Until the defense gave him as many chances as he needed, forcing and recovering a second-half fumble while shutting out the Bruins in the third quarter.
It certainly was not without drama. In fact the drama began before the game, when UCLA players warmed up on the WSU side of the field. Multiple Cougars said after the game they felt disrespected by the incident, and that Ivan McLennan and Marks had used it to fire up the team.
Up five points with 7:10 left in the game, Falk took four minutes off the clock while marching the Cougars to the UCLA 23-yard line. But he tried to do too much, throwing deep to Dom Williams with safety Jaleel Wadood lurking near the end zone. Wadood intercepted Falk’s pass, giving the Bruins one more shot.
And one more shot for Rosen to show why he was the first true freshman quarterback to start a season opener for UCLA, a player who came to college with such great expectations that his teammates christened him “J-Chosen” before he ever threw a pass in a college game.
Rosen led the Bruins on a two-minute drive in which they converted three consecutive third downs. He ended it with a 37-yard touchdown run, diving into the end zone to give the Bruins their first lead since the first quarter.
But Saturday was Falk’s night. Falk led his third successful do-or-die drive of the season, and added to his mythos as he guaranteed the Cougars their first winning season since 2003.
“It’s a good win, shoot, they all are. Maybe next week after Colorado that will be the (statement) win,” Leach said wryly.
The Cougars caught a break two plays after Falk’s injury when linebacker Nate DeRider forced and recovered a fumble during UCLA’s punt return. After two incompletions, Bender threw his first college touchdown pass: a seven-yard fade to Williams.
That score gave the Cougars a 14-13 lead and though they would give up a field goal before the half, WSU was in striking difference of their ranked opponent and had plenty of reasons to think they should be up big.
Bender completed two of five passes for 57 yards and the touchdown. His passing yardage includes a 50-yard pass to Harrington that ended the first half. The play drew a penalty but it was declined by the Bruins
The Cougars were victims of their own foibles on their first offensive drive, needing 25 yards on third down thanks to a pass for negative yards, a sack and a substitution infraction.
They were almost undone by themselves on their second drive, facing third-and-21 thanks to an intentional grounding call against Falk. But then the blunderers turned into technicians. Falk completed his next five passes to get the Cougars to the UCLA two-yard line, and running back Gerard Wicks’ touchdown run put an exclamation mark on the drive as the Cougars took a 7-3 lead.
An offensive facemask penalty on Kyle Sweet killed the third drive, but the WSU defense held the Bruins to a three-and-out and the Cougars blocked the ensuing punt. In the first half the Cougars at various points needed 16, 21, 28 and 29 yards to convert third downs.
And while the WSU defense conceded big plays and plenty of yards , it was successful in the primary goal of keeping the Bruins out of the end zone. UCLA had a first down at the WSU nine-yard line on its first drive and got three points. The Bruins had first down on the WSU two-yard line on their second drive, and again got three points.
After the game, Marks said the Cougars have been disrespected all season. Maybe that will change after WSU’s biggest win this season, under the lights in the most prestigious stadium around.
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