Luke Falk found River Cracraft for a touchdown on the opening possession of the second overtime and the defense subsequently held strong as the WSU Cougars came back from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to win a wild and entertaining back-and-forth game against the Oregon Ducks in Eugene, 45-38.
To be honest, it feels like that opening paragraph doesn't have nearly enough exclamation points. That's how bananas this game was.
The comeback started when WSU, trailing 31-21, drove from its own 40 to Oregon's 5-yard-line with four minutes to go, spurred on by a 31-yard run from Jamal Morrow -- one of many effective runs by the Cougs in this game.
Facing 4th-and-goal from there after a pair of incomplete passes on 2nd and 3rd down, Mike Leach elected to take his chances with a field goal, and Erik Powell converted from 22 yards to draw the Cougs within seven.
All Oregon needed to do was pick up a first down, but the Cougar defense held strong -- as it did on so many occasions -- forcing a three and out when Mark Helfrich elected to punt on 4th-and-1 from his own 28.
While it would have been unconventional to go for it from there, Oregon might have had a better chance picking up a yard with Royce Freeman -- who would end up gaining an inhuman 246 yards on 27 carries as basically Oregon's only consistently effective weapon -- than stopping the WSU offense, which had piled up plenty of yards, even as turnovers neutered a pair of drives.
Trailing 31-24 with 1:58 to go and starting on the WSU 30, the eventual game-tying drive began disastrously when Falk was called for intentional grounding after the referees missed a blatant face mask while Falk was going down. After an incomplete pass, Falk found Dom Williams for 23 yards on 3rd-and-21 to pick up the first down. WSU would convert another 3rd down two plays later when Falk found Gabe Marks for 22 yards down to the Oregon 37 with just over 40 seconds remaining.
On 2nd-and-6 with 37 seconds remaining, referee Land Clark came up with his second curious call of the drive when he ruled Falk "in the grasp" despite him throwing the ball in the vicinity of a running back in the flat while going to the ground. Now facing 3rd-and-12, Falk found Cracraft for nine yards as WSU burned its final timeout to set up 4th-and-3 with 13 seconds to go from the Oregon 30.
And on 4th down with the game on the line, Falk found Cracraft again, all the way down to the Oregon 8-yard-line, where WSU spiked the ball with eight seconds remaining. On the very next play, Falk found Williams in the end zone on a fade to somehow pull WSU even (pending the eventual PAT) with just one second left in the game:
Heading to overtime, WSU won the toss, which put Oregon on offense first. The Ducks needed just two plays to score, with Freeman ripping off 16 yards on 1st down before Jeff Lockie found Bralon Addison wide open in the flat for a nine-yard touchdown pass on a rub route concept.
Once again needing a TD to extend the game, WSU started with a big rush of its own when Morrow scampered through a series of arm tackles for 14 yards, then followed it up with another five yards. After a five-yard pass to Cracraft, WSU faced 3rd-and-1 from the Oregon 2. The Ducks -- as they had for much of the game -- invited a run with a five-man box, but Wicks could only get back to the line of scrimmage.
With another do-or-die 4th down, WSU again went to the ground -- yes, you read that right -- and Morrow got just enough by bouncing the ball outside and stretching for the first. Falk put it in the end zone on a sneak on the very next play, and the PAT moved us to overtime No. 2.
This time, WSU took the ball first. Falk found Marks for a six-yard gain on the first pass, but Tyree Robinson flung him to the ground after Marks was already well out of bounds, and the ball moved to the 9-yard-line. A five-yard run by Gerard Wicks on 2nd down took the ball to Oregon's four, setting up what was one of the more bizarre winning TDs you'll ever see.
Cracraft caught the ball on a slant was crunched between three defenders while trying desperately to squirm toward the endzone. As he hit the ground, the ball bounced up in the air and Robert Lewis snatched it and ran into the end zone. After conferring, the refs ruled that Lewis had actually been the one to catch it. After review, the call stood, but replays appeared to show that Cracraft had broken the plane before the ball popped out, anyway.
Now it was the defense's turn to step up. If the Ducks were going to go down, they were going to go down giving the ball to their best player. But this time, WSU was up to the task, with Ivan McLennan stopping Freeman for just two yards on first down. A blatant hold by Oregon on a 2nd down rush by Freeman moved the ball back, but Oregon gave Freeman the ball again on 2nd-and-18. He picked up seven, and Oregon had two downs to get 11 yards.
The Ducks had really not even tried to throw the ball up until that point, and when Jeff Lockie dropped back to pass, he couldn't find anyone open and Jeremiah Allison dragged him down for just a two-yard gain. Now facing its own do-or-die 4th down, defensive tackle Daniel Ekuale beat his man to pressure Lockie into throwing the ball up for grabs while being dragged down, and Shalom Luani ended the game with an interception.
Falk threw for a whopping 505 yards and five touchdowns on 50-of-74 passing. He threw zero interceptions, and is almost certainly going to win another Pac-12 Player of the Week award. He completed passes to 10 different receivers, throwing TDs to four of them; despite throwing for more than 500 yards, only one receiver (Marks) went over 100 yards (111). He caught WSU's first two touchdowns, including this incredible beauty:
It simply was big play after big play for the Cougs, who struggled last week to come up with enough to get them over the top against Cal. It wasn't a perfect performance by any means -- virtually all of Falk's seven sacks suffered were a result of holding the ball too long, Keith Harrington had a pair of lost fumbles despite running wild, the defense missed a ton of tackles, especially in the first half -- but it was perhaps the gutsiest performance you'll ever see out of a Cougar team.
In addition to the refereeing gaffes noted above, Oregon was gifted its go-ahead TD in the third quarter. With WSU leading 21-17, Lockie found Freeman wide open in the flat for a TD after an aggressive rub concept sprung him loose. It turned out that the rub was a little too aggressive, as the sideline official threw a flag for offensive pass interference.
But wait! The flag was picked up because "the receiver caught the ball behind the line of scrimmage." About that ...
Despite repeated opportunities to do so, these Cougs refused to pack it in. I'm just so dang proud of their effort tonight -- it finally paid off with a massive win, no matter how "down" Oregon is at the moment.
Go enjoy this one, Cougar fans. You deserve it. We all do.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Here's what it looked like in the <a href="https://twitter.com/wsucougfb">@wsucougfb</a> locker room tonight! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/GoCougs?src=hash">#GoCougs</a> <a href="http://t.co/Wt7ArI3wZm">pic.twitter.com/Wt7ArI3wZm</a></p>— WSU Cougars (@WSUCougars) <a href="https://twitter.com/WSUCougars/status/653051525728567296">October 11, 2015</a></blockquote>
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