Make it five


ASU Sun Devils linebacker Salamo Fiso, No. 58, tackles WSU Cougars wide receiver Isaiah Johnson-Mack, No. 5, during a game against WSU in Sun Devil Stadium, in Tempe, Arizona, on Saturday. The Cougars took down the Sun Devils, 37-32. 

he WSU football team pulled out a thriller in the desert Saturday night, downing the Arizona State Sun Devils 37-32.

The Cougars (5-2, 4-0) extended their winning streak to five games overall and four straight conference wins with their first victory in Sun Devil Stadium since 2001. The win also marks the first time the Cougars have opened the season 4-0 in conference play since 2003.

“I was pleased that our team played as hard as they did,” WSU Head Coach Mike Leach said. “We didn’t always play together, but we reacted well and recovered when we didn’t.”

WSU was hot and cold in all three phases of the game. On the opening drive, ASU (5-3, 2-3) converted on several third downs and took advantage of a facemask penalty on WSU to drive 60 yards for a touchdown and take an early 7-0 lead.

The Cougars did not find a rhythm on offense early, as they ran just 11 plays on their first three drives.

The WSU defense tightened after the first drive, shutting down ASU’s freshman quarterback Dillon Sterling-Cole. Sterling-Cole played in place of the Sun Devils redshirt sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins, who was injured on the team’s second drive after taking a hard hit from WSU senior safety Shalom Luani.

The Cougars got on the board in the second quarter on a 29-yard field goal from redshirt junior kicker Erik Powell to make the score 7-3.

Despite securing a bit of momentum offensively with the three points, things soon turned dicey for the Cougars as ASU’s junior running back Kalen Ballage broke off a 60-yard touchdown run on the ensuing drive to put the Sun Devils up 14-3.

The Cougars seemingly needed a shot in the arm in order to stay in the game with halftime approaching, and WSU junior defensive back Robert Taylor provided it with a 100-yard kick return touchdown immediately following Ballage’s touchdown run. The return was the first special teams touchdown for the Cougars in 13 years and it came at an opportune time and brought WSU back within four at 14-10.

“It goes by like a blur,” Taylor said of the return. “I knew we had a good game plan in the kick return coming in, so when I saw that green grass, I just had to hit it.”

Including Taylor’s return and a late touchdown score at the end of the first half to go up 17-14 heading into the break, WSU scored four unanswered touchdowns and looked to have the game in hand with the Cougars up three scores at 31-14 at the end of the third quarter.

The Sun Devils stormed back and pulled within five points with less than five minutes remaining after ASU senior place kicker Zane Gonzalez hit a 29-yard field goal; but redshirt junior quarterback Luke Falk, who looked to be dealing with pain from the seven sacks he endured throughout the game, orchestrated game-clinching drive over the final four minutes and 36 seconds of play.

The Cougars picked up three first downs on the drive and then iced the game with three kneel-downs with ASU unable to stop the clock after burning its timeouts earlier in the half.

Falk engineered the Cougars’ offense all game, completing 42 passes on 53 attempts for 398 yards and three touchdowns. He now leads the nation in both passing completions and completion percentage.

WSU wide receivers redshirt senior Gabe Marks and senior River Cracraft spearheaded the air raid attack in the game alongside Falk. Marks had eight catches for 108 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown pass and Cracraft is now second on WSU’s all-time catches list, as he racked up 79 yards on seven catches.

Between a missed extra point, a net total of -52 rushing yards and seven Arizona State sacks, the game did not finish as smoothly as the Cougars had hoped, but Marks was happy to get out of Tempe with a win.

“It’s hard to complain about wins,” Marks said. “Especially when you’re a player and you know how hard it was to win.”

With the win, the Cougars remain tied at the top of the Pac-12 North with in-state rival No. 4 University of Washington and are now one win away from securing bowl eligibility for the second-consecutive season. The Sun Devils fall to fourth in the South division with the loss and now sit two games behind the top spot in the south division.

The Cougars will be on the road next Saturday and head down the Oregon Trail to take on the Oregon State Beavers (2-5, 1-3) in Corvallis. The Beavers fell 41-17 to the Huskies in Seattle on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 7:45 p.m. and the game will air on ESPN2.