PULLMAN – The scoreboard results after Washington State’s first home game this season and its last were wholly opposed.
Saturday’s 27-3 victory over Colorado, the best defensive effort over a conference opponent since 1996, was diametrically different than the season-opening 24-17 loss to Portland State.
And yet the sense of foreboding at the end of both games was eerily similar.
Quarterback Luke Falk, known for his four fourth-quarter comebacks and three last-minute game-changing touchdown drives, finished the game in the hospital. He was knocked out of a game with a head injury for the second time in as many weeks, after he was sacked by Colorado defensive tackle Samson Kafovalu midway through the third quarter.
After the game, WSU head coach Mike Leach declined to answer questions about Falk’s health status, threatening to end the interview session if such questions persisted.
Just like the previous week against UCLA, Falk’s head ricocheted off the cold, solid turf, made harder by the 29-degree nighttime temperatures. The quarterback lay motionless on the field for 7 minutes while trainers removed his facemask, strapped him to a board and put him on a cart.
“I didn’t know what happened,” receiver Dom Williams said. “I was praying for the best.”
Falk reassured the 25,121 fans in attendance by giving the crowd a thumbs up and waving as he was driven from the field.
WSU (8-3, 6-2 Pac-12) has won its last three games and six of its last seven.
Quarterback Peyton Bender again played well in relief. When Falk was knocked out of the first half against UCLA, Bender threw a touchdown pass that proved critical in the 31-27 win.
He completed 13 of 22 passes against the Buffaloes, tossing a 16-yard TD to the corner of the end zone, where it was reeled in by Gabe Marks, despite a defender in tight coverage.
“I thought he moved the ball pretty well,” Leach said. “He just got kind of reckless. One, the ball fluttered and the guy got ahold of that. I thought he did a good job leading and moving the ball, though. All things considered.”
The catch gave Marks 14 touchdowns on the year, the most by a WSU receiver over the course of a single season.
“It seems like every week we’ll be sitting over there and see the ball go up, and be like, ‘Uh,’ and Gabe comes down with it,” WSU safety Isaac Dotson said. “I don’t know how he does what he does, but I like it.”
Bender has a lot to live up to in Falk, who has completed 71 percent of his passes in 2015, throwing for 3,935 yards and 34 touchdowns. Falk was intercepted just seven times in 538 passes and engineered four fourth-quarter comebacks, leading the Cougars to winning or tying touchdowns with 1, 3 and 13 seconds left in fourth quarters.
Just last Monday Leach said that Heisman Trophy voters who did not select Falk needed to rethink their criteria.
Saturday’s game was the 10th home victory for WSU’s senior class, for whom wins in Martin Stadium never came easily enough. Even as the No. 24 Cougars rose to respectability and beyond, they did so with a reputation for playing conspicuously better on the road than at home.
The seniors have accomplished many firsts in their final season. Many offensive records, a winning season and a national ranking are just a few of the legacies that will be left by players who were either among the first recruited by Leach, or the last recruited by former coach Paul Wulff.
And the senior class made its presence felt. Safety Taylor Taliulu ended a promising Buffaloes drive with the first interception of his career. Kache Palacio had a big tackle on Philip Lindsey to drop him 3 yards on third-and-3 from WSU 4 on the drive after Falk’s injury. Tyler Baker’s 24-yard catch was his longest of the year.
“It was cool. I’m going to tell my kids I was just waiting for Senior Night,” Taliulu said. “Oh yeah, I couldn’t really see the ball until halfway through because of the lights. But I saw it at the end.”
Williams’ touchdown catch moved him within three of Jason Hill’s school record of 32 in a career.
And some fine senior blocking by left guard Gunnar Eklund contributed to Gerard Wicks’ 123 rushing yards, the first 100-yard ground game by a WSU player since James Montgomery did it in 2010.
Senior linebacker Jeremiah Allison walked out of the tunnel during the Senior Night ceremonies with linebackers coach Ken Wilson and Carmento Floyd, the wife of former school President Elson Floyd, who passed away earlier this year.
“They were such a big part of the football program. Elson Floyd was a big inspiration in my life,” Allison said. “I had a chance to sit and talk with him a lot, and just to have his wife walk me out was a remarkable, wonderful experience and something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”
the rest of my life.”
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