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Cougars prove their toughness by manhandling Stanford on the road

Washington State’s Gabe Marks  makes a 17-yard touchdown catch against Stanford during the second half  Saturday. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)
Washington State’s Gabe Marks makes a 17-yard touchdown catch against Stanford during the second half Saturday. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

STANFORD, Calif. – It wasn’t just the blowout nature of WSU’s win over No. 15 Stanford on Saturday, although it was undeniably a beatdown.

It’s not just that the Cougars remain undefeated in Pac-12 games despite having already played the two teams that have won every conference championship since 2008, though that, also, is a fact.

Ending an eight-game losing streak to the Cardinal was nice for the game notes, but not particularly consequential.

WSU’s balance-of-power shifting 42-16 win in Stanford’s stadium on Saturday night was a toughness-measuring contest all night, and when the Cougars rose to the occasion Stanford wilted.

“This one’s up there,” WSU wide receiver Gabe Marks said. “Stanford’s been the class of the conference for a while now. Since I’ve been here, they’ve been a powerhouse. For us, these past two weeks have really been important for us as a team and as players to finally see the work pay off and realize our potential, and becoming what we thought we would be.”

When quarterback Luke Falk slid to the turf and took a blow to the head from strong safety Justin Reid, it was Reid who did not come back into the game, thanks to his ejection. Falk sat out a single play, then came back into the game and put a dagger through the Cardinal’s heart.

The 17-yard strike to Marks put the Cougars up 28-10 with the third quarter winding down. It did not come easy, either, having been preceded by consecutive false starts that gave WSU third-and-goal from the 17-yard line.

But the win was not about easy for the Cougars. It was about getting the hard things done.

“There are no good finesse teams in football,” Marks said.

Tavares Martin scored the first two touchdowns for the Cougars, using varying degrees of acrobatics. For WSU’s first score, he towed a rope along the back of the end zone, keeping his feet inbounds while reaching up to high-point Falk’s pass.

His second score was worthy of the postgame highlight shows. Facing fourth-and-7 from the Stanford 29-yard line, Falk fired a bullet to Martin, who had to gather himself and make sure he got the first down. He had, but it didn’t matter.

As the defenders closed in, Martin spun out to the left, getting to the sideline before Stanford’s safeties could get an angle and running to the end zone unimpeded.

The teams traded missed field goals – WSU’s Erik Powell is now 0 for 5 on the season – heading into the half.

After consecutive dominant games, the WSU rushing game again took a backseat to the passing attack. The running backs combined for 101 yards and two touchdowns, having piled up well more than 200 yards and six TDs against Oregon last week.

But Jamal Morrow added a 45-yard reception to spark the passing game. Falk finished with four touchdowns and 357 yards. Two interceptions, though ill-advised and atypical, did not prove costly.

Coming out of the locker room, the Cougars put together a statement drive that gave them control for the rest of the contest. Falk completed 5 of 6 passes for 67 yards, including back-to-back receptions by River Cracraft of 30 and 12 yards. Running back James Williams ended it with a burst into the end zone, finishing off the final two of the 81 yards the Cougars traveled over 10 plays.

Cracraft had his best night in years, catching seven passes for 130 yards and a score that put the Cougars up 35-10 in the fourth quarter. That touchdown probably also made the highlight shows.

“He was hot,” Falk said. “There are some where he was covered, but I just felt comfortable with him and just threw it up there and made a nice play. That catch in the end zone was incredible. He was just – he was hot, and just kept feeding it to him tonight.”

Isaac Dotson intercepted Stanford quarterback Ryan Burns on the ensuing drive, but Falk promptly threw an interception to Frank Buncom, who returned it 26 yards for a defensive touchdown.

Dotson, who has battled injuries for much of his career, has now intercepted passes in consecutive weeks and recovered a fumble as well against the Cardinal.

Last year, once the Cougars got their early-season struggles out of the way, they showed they could beat anybody by being better in the clutch. They won the close ones. Now they don’t need to.

WSU (3-2, 2-0 Pac-12) has blown out the two teams that have won every Pac-12 championship since 2008 by 44 total points. Because Washington beat up Oregon earlier in the day, the state of Washington is suddenly the center of college football power on the West Coast. The two schools had not both defeated Stanford and UO in the same year since 2003.

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