With just a couple of seconds left in the half, Luke Falk stepped up in the pocket, saw Gabe Marks streaking through the back of the end zone and fired a pass that found his most productive and most ebullient receiver.
Wait, haven’t we read this story before?
As far as previews go, Washington State’s Crimson and Gray game contained a strong dose of Déjà vu. Falk led the Gray to a 24-12 win over Crimson at Albi Stadium on Saturday thanks to a two-touchdown performance from Marks, whose opening act of his farewell tour hinted at a big senior season.
Marks finished with 11 catches for 96 yards for the Gray team. He was joined by inside receiver Robert Lewis, who caught 11 passes for 108 yards and one score, also for the Gray.
Safety Shalom Luani stopped a promising drive by intercepting a long pass from Peyton Bender and Gerard Wicks grinded his way through defenders. But as the scrimmage wore on, the familiar was replaced by the tantalizingly new.
“(All the positions) are up for grabs,” WSU head coach Mike Leach said afterward. “None of these jokers is safe.”
Marks kept his name out of the NFL draft this season to come back to Pullman and chase a Rose Bowl. On Saturday, the Cougars showcased the additional pieces that might get him there.
After a year of hints and whispers, fans finally caught a glimpse of freshman running back James Williams, whose undeniable athleticism and enviable balance made him one of the stars of WSU’s spring showcase. Williams finished with 25 rushing yards on six carries and caught six passes for 42 yards.
“This was big for me. This was the closest thing to a game for me since my senior year,” said Williams, who missed most of his senior year of high school with a torn ACL. “It’s been a while since I did something like this, so I planned on outdoing myself.”
On one play, Williams hurdled a defender midtackle, the jump netting him an additional 3 yards. Another time he pranced untouched through what seemed to be the most crowded area on the field for 7 yards and a score.
Despite employing a vanilla package devoid of blitzes and pre-snap movement, the WSU defense totaled 12 sacks, including three apiece for defensive linemen Nick Begg and Ngalu Tapa. Defensive end Hercules Mata’afa added two QB stops.
Parker Henry led all players with nine tackles and Kirkland Parker had eight. Aaron Porter, Paris Taylor and Peyton Pelluer had six tackles apiece and freshman Jalen Thompson broke up a pass.
“Today was simplified, not much of our defensive package was implemented,” Pelluer said. “We just got our there and flew around, and it was easy and simple to free up our minds so we could just play fast.”
The defenses started strongly, stopping the first drives by each team. Falk led the Gray on a 75-yard drive that ended with a 10-yard toss to Marks in the end zone.
Backup quarterback Tyler Hilinski took over the Gray offense next, but Falk retook the reins with 1:48 left in the first half, leading a drive that consumed 1:43 and ended 75 yards later with Marks’ second score.
“Oh man, I never doubt when we get in 2 minutes,” Marks said. “We’re almost better in 2-minute drills than we would be if we had more time.”
Falk completed 23 of 28 passes for 170 yards. Hilinksi played one half for each team and completed 26 of 31 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown. Bender quarterbacked the Crimson team, completing 16 of 21 passes for 149 yards and one touchdown.
The Cougars split the teams as evenly as possible, sharing offensive linemen and trying to line starters up next to backups.
“It was a little more disjointed than I hoped,” Leach said. “That’s kind of the risk of doing it how we did it.”