7-3: The No. 24 Cougars beat UCLA on the way to their best record since 2003

For anyone who thought Washington State’s repeated come-from-behind victories in the fourth quarter of games was an aberration, Saturday night was a wake-up call.

The now-No. 24 Cougars (7-3, 5-2 Pac-12) defeated the then-No. 18 UCLA Bruins (7-3, 4-3), 31-27, behind redshirt sophomore quarterback Luke Falk’s fourth fourth-quarter comeback of the season.

Falk found redshirt junior receiver Gabe Marks in the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown to give the Cougars the winning score with 3 seconds left in the game. A minute prior, UCLA took the lead on freshman quarterback Josh Rosen’s 37-yard touchdown run and subsequent two-point conversion pass that gave the Bruins a 27-24 lead with 1:09 remaining.

“I’m proud of our guys,” Head Coach Mike Leach said in a postgame press conference. “It was one of those deals where we said ‘60 minutes,’ and we needed all 60 minutes.”

On the touchdown toss to Marks, Falk stood tall in the pocket before UCLA forced him to roll to his right. After surveying the field with precious seconds ticking off the clock, he released the ball to the back of the end zone.

“I made my move out of my stick, and (the defender) tried to jump it, so I slipped behind him,” Marks said. “I started trying to stack him and trying to get a feel for him. Then I saw Luke throw it back shoulder, so I just tried to hold him off until the last second. I knew he was going to try to run into me and if anything I was going to get pass interference. I was able to slip away from him and make the catch.”

“It’s not how we draw it up,” Falk added. “You want Gabe to go under that guy, but he went over that guy and made an instinctive play and I just threw the ball up to one of the best playmakers in the country and he came down with it.

“I was a little kid who dreamed about having a game-winning drive in the Rose Bowl,” Falk continued. “That was a sweet one for me.”

Falk threw two second-half touchdowns to Marks. The first came on a 4-yard slant to give WSU a 21-16 lead with just under 8 minutes left in the third quarter.

“People are not going to give us respect until they absolutely have to,” Marks said. “Now they have to.”

Marks finished with 12 catches for 92 yards, and now holds the school record for most career receptions with 204. WSU’s other touchdown pass came on a 7-yarder from redshirt freshman quarterback Peyton Bender to redshirt senior receiver Dom Williams to put WSU up 14-13 with 1:30 to play in the first half.

UCLA brought pressure for most of the game, and the Cougars had trouble protecting the quarterback, giving up six sacks. That led to a big hit late in the second quarter that forced Falk to miss two drives in the first half. He returned after halftime.

“We got better and better at protecting in the second half,” Leach said. “UCLA is big and physical on the inside and fast on the outside and gave us a tough time in the first half, but we did a better job of keeping them off (Falk) in the second half.”

After WSU went 3-and-out on its opening possession and UCLA kicked a field goal on its, the Cougars marched down the field on a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to take the lead, 7-3, late in the opening quarter.

Falk bounced back from an intentional grounding penalty on the drive to hit Williams for an 8-yard completion on 4th-and-5, and redshirt sophomore running back Gerard Wicks capped it off with a 2-yard touchdown run off the left tackle.

The Cougars dominated the field position battle during the game, with their average starting field position at their own 36, while UCLA’s average starting field position was at their own 19. A 0-yard punt on a run/punt option play to open the third quarter gave the Cougars outstanding field position, leading to Marks’ first touchdown catch.

The Bruins repeatedly gave the Cougars second chances by committing 13 penalties (most of them offsides or false starts) and fumbling twice.