Clipping the Ducks


Redshirt sophomore quarterback Luke Falk throws against Oregon in the second half of the game in Autzen Stadium, Saturday, Oct. 10.

On an evening where downpour and heavy wind ruled the day, it was the Cougars who swam to the top while the Ducks could not stay afloat.

A back-and-forth battle between the Oregon (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12) and Washington State (3-2, 1-1) offenses ended with a defensive stand by the Cougars in the second overtime period. On a 4th-and-9 play from the WSU 24-yard-line, junior safety Shalom Luani picked off Oregon redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Lockie in the end zone to preserve a wild, 45-38 WSU victory on Saturday in Eugene.

“Shalom, he’s just all over the field,” senior linebacker Jeremiah Allison said in a postgame interview with “People were calling me from back home, saying, ‘Who’s No. 8? He’s bringing it.’ So Shalom, he’s a very vital instrument to our defense.”

Luani’s play would not have ended the game if it weren’t for some heroics by his teammates leading up to that moment.

The Cougars had the ball first in the second overtime, and on 3rd-and-goal from the 4-yard-line, redshirt sophomore quarterback Luke Falk threw an unconventional touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore receiver Robert Lewis.

Falk’s original target had been junior receiver River Cracraft, but as Cracraft approached the goal line with his back to the end zone, he was hit from behind, which caused him to lose possession of the football. Lewis snatched it out of the air on the 2-yard line and walked in for the go-ahead score.

“I thought (Cracraft) was in because I thought he broke the plane,” Falk said. “Then I saw it bounce up and I was like, ‘oh, crap,’ because sometimes the refs get it wrong, but Robert was right there, so no matter what, I was pretty confident we scored.”

The Cougars scored 24 of the final 31 points in the last four minutes of the fourth quarter plus the two overtimes. An 8-yard touchdown pass from Falk to redshirt senior receiver Dom Williams tied the game at 31 with one second remaining in regulation. With time winding down, Falk found Williams in one-on-one coverage in the left side of the end zone threw a jump ball to him on a fade route.

“I know what kind of player Dom is,” Falk said. “You can’t single him up on a fade. The bottom line is, I think he made a heck of a play in a clutch moment.”

Falk finished with 505 yards passing on 50 completions with five touchdowns, as well as a one-yard quarterback sneak to tie the game at 38 in the first overtime. His best moments, though, arguably came on that 12-play, 70-yard, game-tying drive in which he drove the Cougars to the end zone in under two minutes.

After a defensive stop gave the Cougar offense the ball at their own 30 with 1:58 to play, an 11-yard sack dropped WSU into a 2nd-and-21 situation at their own 19. After an incomplete pass, Falk completed a 23-yarder to Williams on 3rd-and-21 to keep the drive alive. Three plays later, on 3rd-and-11 from the WSU 41, Falk found redshirt junior receiver Gabe Marks for 22 yards to the Oregon 37.

Another sack put the Cougars behind the chains once again, but Falk completed another 22-yard pass, this time to Cracraft, on 4th-and-3 with the game on the line. That put the Cougars on the 8, where Williams then caught the touchdown pass for the score that tied the game.

WSU’s other road win of 2015 came with a long, 90-yard, last-minute touchdown drive at Rutgers four weeks ago. Four of the first five games this year have been decided by seven points or fewer, and Head Coach Mike Leach was impressed by how his players fought for the tough win.

“We’ve been playing everybody so close and to the wire, it’s about time we figure out a way to come out on top,” Leach said.

WSU’s first victory over Oregon since 2006 and first in Eugene since 2003 started with the Cougars taking the opening kickoff and driving 75 yards on eight plays, the drive culminating in a 7-yard, Falk-to-Marks touchdown pass and a 7-0 lead. The offense wouldn’t score again until the end of the half, when Falk hit Marks again, this time from four yards out, to bring the score to 17-14 at the half.

The Cougars twice fell behind by double digit margins because of an Oregon running game that ran up and down the field at will, totaling 410 yards on the ground. Oregon running back Royce Freeman, who finished the game with 248 yards on 27 carries, rushed for gains of 30 and 42 yards in the first half, both of which put the Ducks in position for their first two touchdowns and a 17-7 lead.

In the second half, a 35-yard run by Lockie, a 43-yard run by freshman back Taj Griffin, and another 49-yard rush by Freeman, led to Oregon’s other two touchdowns, and the Ducks took a 31-21 lead with 8:20 to play in regulation after Freeman’s second score. Despite the video-game like rushing numbers Oregon posted, the Cougars’ defense stood tall against the run at the most important moments in the game.

After a fumble by WSU redshirt freshman running back Keith Harrington with 7:28 to play, the Cougar defense forced a three-and-out on three-straight Oregon running plays, allowing the Cougar offense enough time to drive down the field twice.

Redshirt sophomore Erik Powell’s 22-yard field goal made the score 31-24 with 3:53 to play in regulation, and the Cougars kicked off to Oregon again. The defense then forced its second consecutive three-and-out on three straight Oregon running plays, which set the stage for Falk’s game-tying drive.

“I’m proud of our guys. I thought they were tough and hung in there and we out-punched them in the end,” Leach said.