PULLMAN – Luke Falk has spent four years assembling one of the most impressive careers by a quarterback in the Pac-12 Conference. Using a few different metrics, you could easily say Washington State’s senior is in a world of his own.
Falk is the league’s all-time leader in career pass attempts (1,931), completions (1,327), passing yards (13,806), total offensive yards (13,453) and total plays (2,171). Falk has won more games than any WSU quarterback (26) and seven times over the last four seasons, he’s led the Cougars to a win after entering the fourth quarter with a deficit.
A quarterback often recognized for his pinpoint precision, his swift release and his obsessive preparation, Falk, about once every five starts on average, reminds WSU fans of his innate ability to deliver in the game’s biggest moments.
Last Saturday, WSU had its Pac-12 title hopes in the balance when the Logan, Utah, native engineered a 94-yard touchdown drive to lift the Cougars over 18th-ranked Stanford.
It certainly wasn’t the first of its kind.
“That’d be a good story for you guys. Fourth-quarter drives where Washington State has won games,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “That would be a pretty captivating story and maybe one I’d read myself.”
“It might be a national record,” Leach said, referring to fourth-quarter comebacks under Falk, “because we’ve had a lot of them.”
It’d require a pretty deep fact check to determine that, so instead we’ll break down five of Falk’s best touchdown drives, and hopefully the Wazzu boss finds it an interesting piece of literature anyway.
7 plays, 75 yards capped by 21-yard pass to Gabe Marks
Poll any of the southern Californians who played with Falk in 2015 and they’ll say the best of the bunch came on a balmy November night in Pasadena.
“There’s something about LA and this league and recruiting and winning on the road there,” said Matt Chazanow, the Voice of the Cougars.
Falk’s center was Riley Sorenson, a native of nearby Santa Margarita. Recalled Sorenson: “(The Bruins) were warming up on our side and everything. They were just kind of being … questionable.”
Washington State’s quarterback hadn’t played a game in Los Angeles since his unsuccessful sophomore trial at Oaks Christian. UCLA’s QB, on the other hand, was freshman phenom Josh Rosen, who’d spent his prep career shattering records at LA juggernaut St. John Bosco.
With a minute and change left at the iconic Rose Bowl, Rosen bolted 37 yards to the end zone, giving the Bruins a 27-24 edge.
So, planted on the 25-yard line, Falk had 79 seconds to take the Cougars 75 yards. He began by legging out 3 yards, then hit Gabe Marks for 16 and picked up 5 more with his feet before slinging a pass to Dom Williams for a 30-yard catch-and-run.
Incomplete passes to Williams and Kyle Sweet gave Falk third-and-10 with 11 seconds left. He fielded the snap from Sorenson, gave his receivers a four-second buffer, shuffled right and floated a ball toward Marks in the end zone. The receiver shed off a black shirt, lunged and fell to the turf with the ball in hand. A sweet LA ending.
“Marks is from Venice (California), the Rose Bowl’s historic,” Chazanow said. “… It was reaffirming of, like, no this is a real thing, these guys are really that good and they do on this on the road.”
Added Sorenson: “For all the LA kids, it was very satisfying and it was almost kind of reassuring, like yeah, we obviously made the right choice, we’re coming to a program that’s obviously better than this program – the hometown program that everyone is always so crazy about.”
12 plays, 70 yards capped by 8-yard pass to Dom Williams
Grading purely on degree of difficulty, it’s hard to top the 2015 drive at Autzen Stadium.
“I think the Autzen drive was harder (than UCLA), because it was SO loud,” Sorenson said. “I was trying to talk to the guards and the tackles, but they couldn’t even hear me.”
Not to mention Falk converted on two separate third downs – connecting with Williams for 23 yards on third-and-21, and then to Marks for 22 yards on third-and-11.
There were 37 ticks left when Oregon’s All-American defensive end, DeForest Buckner, sacked the WSU QB for a loss of 6 yards and Falk’s 9-yard toss to River Cracraft was 3 yards short of moving the sticks. Then, on fourth down, Cracraft ran a clean post route into the middle of the field and reeled in a 22-yard missile from Falk.
After stopping the clock at seven seconds, the Cougars drew something up . Williams high-pointed Falk’s throw and brought it in before crashing into the end zone. It left one second on the clock.
“It was very dramatic,” Chazanow recalled. “With Dom, if it wasn’t a fade, it was something like it. … It was very Dom. That was Dom’s thing, he was very good at that. He was 6’4, great hands. That was kind of a classic Dom Williams moment.”
Recalled Sorenson: “Heck of a throw, heck of a catch. We definitely had the momentum at that point, it definitely felt like they were a bit defeated.”
Falk and the Cougars braved a few more gut-wrenching moments to pull out a 45-38 win in double-overtime. It was their first win at Autzen in 18 years and their first over the Ducks in eight years.
“It kind of bolstered the confidence,” Sorenson said. “Hey, we’re for real. We just went to Oregon and beat Oregon in double-overtime.”
10 plays, 90 yards capped by 8-yard pass to River Cracraft
Janarion Grant. That name ring a bell, WSU fans?
For large chunks of this nonleague game in Piscataway, N.J., the Cougars probably felt like they were at the mercy of the Rutgers kick/punt returner. With 12:37 left in the fourth quarter, Grant raced through WSU’s kickoff team for a 100-yard touchdown return to give the Scarlet Knights a four-point lead. Then, with 1:31 on the clock, Grant busted another big one, taking Zach Charme’s punt 55 yards to the house to make it 34-30 Rutgers.
The 2015 season had already stomached a loss to Portland State. Getting beat by Rutgers could’ve sent it spiraling.
“There was definitely a sense of urgency with that drive,” Sorenson said. “This is going to really help our season if we do this.”
With 24- and 23-yard completions to River Cracraft, Falk had the offense sprinting. But his next three passes fell to the turf. On fourth-and-10, the Cougars were bailed out by an offside call, setting up a manageable fourth-and-5. Falk hit Robert Lewis for 12 yards and Keith Harrington thought he’d put the visitors on the board with a 30-yard TD, but officials ruled him out of bounds at the 21.
Falk dashed for 13 yards, setting up first-and-goal from the 8, then floated a ball into the left corner of the end zone, giving Cracraft just enough space to sneak in a right toe before falling down.
“Bob Rob called it ‘Cardiac Kids 1965’” Chazanow said. “I’ll never forget when he said that, I thought about it, (1965) was his second year calling games. … He’s the only guy in the freaking world who could be like, ‘I know that because I was there.’”
11 plays, 94 yards capped by 11-yard pass to Jamire Calvin
The Cougars were parked 14 yards shy of their own end zone and trailing by four points when Falk saw his target break across the middle of the field.
From the FOX broadcast booth, it sounded like this: “On third-and-14 … Falk throwing over the middle … completes the pass to Tay Martin for the first down. What a huge completion.”
If you were counting down the top plays of the 2017 season, you’d be remiss not to mention the 17-yard hookup from the senior quarterback to the rookie wideout.
“In my mind,” Chazanow said, “play of the year is that third-and-14.”
The drive began four plays earlier, on the 6-yard line with a 12-yard run from James Williams. But a sack followed and a throwaway on second down set WSU up with third-and-long – or third-and-desperate. Without a conversion, the Cougars would have to punt – and, in a game with league title ramifications, they might as well have been punting away their hopes of winning the Pac-12 North.
Everyone else in the stadium sensed the weight of the moment. Just not No. 4.
“I watched the film of that throw,” Chazanow said. “It was a beautiful pass of his back foot to a true freshman who’s really busted out.”
The offense got positive yardage on its next seven plays – two long catch-and-runs from Falk to Morrow were wedged in – and the QB hit Jamire Calvin on a crossing route in the red zone for the eventual game-winner.
“There’s a lot more meat on the bone in this season,” Chazanow said. “You’re 10 games into the year and you’re playing for a Pac-12 title. That’s gone if you don’t win that game.”
6 plays, 52 yards capped by 9-yard pass to Robert Lewis
Sean Mannion was one week removed from becoming the Pac-12’s career leader in passing yards, but the player who’d eventually take down his record was a redshirt freshman on the opposite sideline making the first start of his career.
“We didn’t have any postseason hopes or aspirations,” Sorenson said. “We were just trying to find an identity with Luke and I think that game really kind of got us going, obviously quarterback one goes down but we’re OK.”
More than OK, actually.
Falk hurled 44 passes for 471 yards and five touchdowns, leading the Cougars on a 10-play, 70-yard drive in the beginning of the fourth quarter for the go-ahead score.
Perhaps that was the game’s most important drive. Or maybe it was the one that followed – a 6-play, 52-yard trip downfield that culminated with a quick 6-yard toss to Robert Lewis, who found a bubble in the middle of the field, corralled the pass and dove across the plane. The Cougars needed a two-touchdown cushion, because the Beavers would then go 75 yards in 11 plays to make it a seven-point game.
In Reser Stadium, where the steep grandstand on either side of the field makes it feel like the home fans are sitting on top of you, Falk’s poise and maturity were just as impressive as his eye-popping numbers.
“I don’t know what it is about (Reser),” Sorenson said. “It’s tough to go into Corvallis and win.”
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