PULLMAN – As Washington State began its final drive and last chance to tie or take a lead against Portland State on Saturday, surely many Cougars fans wondered how it could possibly get worse than a loss to the FCS Vikings.
Then they saw what worse looks like.
Luke Falk dove for 5 yards and a first down during a do-or-die fourth-down play. He propelled himself face-first to pick up extra yardage, causing his body to flip and he landed awkwardly on his head and right shoulder.
When he stood up, Falk appeared to grab his shoulder. Falk threw passes on the sideline once backup Peyton Bender, a freshman, entered the game.
Afterward, coach Mike Leach said Falk is “100 percent healthy like all our players,” when asked about Falk’s health and responded, “Next question,” when asked if Falk would be given an MRI or evaluated for a possible head injury.
Bender’s first collegiate snap came in trying circumstances: down a touchdown with 63 yards between the Cougars and a tying touchdown. His first two passes went incomplete before he found Dom Williams for 18 yards on third-and-10.
He fired a pass to Tyler Baker, who was in a crowd, on his fourth pass. The ball was knocked in the air and PSU’s Aaron Sibley corralled it, effectively ending the game.
“It happened so fast I really wasn’t thinking that much,” Bender said. “I just tried to do the job to the best of my ability. Unfortunately, it didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but I was just out there trying my best, trying to help the team win.”
Leach said afterward that Bender performed OK and that, while he admittedly forced a few passes, the situation was very difficult.
Thompson cheers on Cougars
Former WSU guard and reigning NBA champion Klay Thompson was on hand for WSU’s game and he brought the Larry O’Brien trophy with him. Thompson won the NBA championship trophy this past season with the Golden State Warriors when he and backcourt mate Stephen Curry – the league MVP – beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the six-game NBA Finals.
Thompson was also a starter for the Western Conference All-Star team.
He raised the WSU flag above Martin Stadium prior to the game and was given a standing ovation by the fans in attendance.
While in Pullman, Thompson met with the football and men’s basketball teams, and fans who are members of the Cougar Athletic Fund were able to take pictures with Thompson and the trophy.
Vikings play ‘Barney Ball’
Portland State football was given a brand before the Vikings got out of spring ball. In the visitors’ locker room of Martin Stadium it became the war cry of the program’s biggest upset.
Barney Ball. Named, of course, after their head coach Bruce Barnum.
“Barney ball is blue collar, fundamental, tough football,” Portland State quarterback Alex Kuresa said. “It doesn’t matter who we play, we’re going to come in and come to win. Because if you’re not going to come to win, then what are you doing there? We’re going to carry it on throughout the rest of the season.”
Kuresa certainly exemplified it. The junior quarterback, playing in his first Division I game, took off to run 16 times, compared to passing the ball 12 times. He tallied 92 yards on the ground, many on broken-down pass plays from WSU’s constant blitz pressure. That also meant taking hits.
“A couple times I thought he wasn’t going to wake up,” Barnum said. “(Washington State defensive coordinator Alex) Grinch came up with some blitzes that just worked. They got after him, and it was good to see that part of it. He kept his eyes up and took some wacks.”
Kuresa transferred into Portland State from Snow College in Utah and split the reps with junior Paris Penn.
Oblivious but successful
Barnum seemed oblivious to the fact he just beat a Pac-12 program.
“I’m naive as hell,” Barnum said. “Yeah, I thought about the schematics and maybe that’s why we came here and the kids did believe a little bit. Because I didn’t talk about Pac-12 and Washington State.”
Barnum is on a 12-month contract as the interim coach of the Big Sky program after Nigel Burton was dismissed.
His decision to punt early in the fourth quarter while tied at 10 led to a Kyrin Priester punt and Portland State being given the ball 11 yards from the end zone and the lead.
Vikings fans were behooving him to go for it.
“They were all doing that. I was behind the huddle listening to all the hoopla and I said, ‘We’re punting,’ ” Barnum said. “Let them celebrate. We lucked out and caught a break when we got the turnover down there.”
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