Windy day doesn't hold Air Raid down

SPOKANE – The wind blowing through Joe Albi Stadium -- at one point gusting so hard it blew off a piece of a first down marker -- didn't hurt Mike Leach's Air Raid Offense. Not with wide receivers Kristoff Williams and Gabe Marks leading their respective squads in receptions.

During the third rendition of a Spokane-hosted Crimson and Gray Spring Game, Cougar quarterbacks combined to throw 109 passes on a day better suited for sailing than football.

Williams finished with seven catches, 136 yards and a touchdown -- his day made when he took a jailbreak screen from Connor Halliday and split the hashes for an 80-yard touchdown.

Marks hauled in what proved the game-winning touchdown with five minutes remaining from third-stringer Jesse Brown in the right corner of the end zone. Leach ended the scrimmage – they had well surpassed his goal of running 80 plays – after Brown found West on a quick pass to net a two-point conversion and a 22-21 win.

Marks, starred alongside quarterback Austin Apodaca on the gray squad, pulling in 11 catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns. His comments afterwards were just as enlightening.

"We made strides in just trying to be consistent," Marks said when asked where the offense has improved most during the spring. "It's still not enough. From where we were last year it's been different but it's still not enough to where it needs to be."

Apodaca relied on the loquacious sophomore while the Gray team's offense sputtered. The pair connected on a 7-yard touchdown in the abbreviated second half to cut Crimson's lead to 21-14.

"I threw to (Marks) a lot today," Apodaca said. "They're all go-to-guys but today especially Gabe was on fire. He always wants the ball and that's the thing that is so big about him is that he might get mad at the quarterback if you don't throw him the ball. That's how bad he wants it."

"I think if all our receivers wanted the ball as bad as Gabe we'd be really good," he said.

Leach, meanwhile, was quick to point to Williams' improvement during spring practice. The redshirt junior – long considered among the best athletes on the team – has played more physical and exhibited fewer mental lapses of late. Saturday's performance in front of 8,340 showed he might push Dominique Williams for playing time 2013.

"I thought he played real well today," Leach said. "I thought he's had a real steady spring."

Halliday repeated the sentiment after going 38-58 for 406 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.

"If Kristoff is playing the way he is we're a completely different team," Halliday said.

No different was Marks' play than it had been through the first 13 spring sessions. Every practice habit the coaching staff chided Marquess Wilson for Marks has excelled at. He doesn't drop passes. He runs hard every route – even when he knows the ball isn't coming his way.

The sophomore wide receiver competes every single play.

Leach was succinct in describing the wideout's performance, probably knowing Marks had already beat him to it.

"Gabe Marks has had a really good spring," he said.

  • Jeremiah Laufasa might be a legitimate option as a red zone running back in 2013. The sophomore led the Crimson team in rushing with 31 yards on four carries and caught four passes for 28 yards.

    "It's a different skill set that I have from the other guys," said Laufasa of his ability to truck defenders. "I just felt like I should take that role and run with it. It's just been focusing on making less moves and running hard."

  • Dominique Williams quietly compiled six catches for 85 yards, for the Gray team. Brett Bartolone checked in with four catches for 35 yards while running back Teondray Caldwell recorded three catches for 30 hashes.

  • The Crimson team fared just as well through the air. Isiah Myers had eight catches for 111 yards and a touchdown. Rickey Galvin brought in seven grabs for 57 yards, including a nifty 26-yard catch from Halliday on a fourth and eight in the second half.

  • Austin Apodaca finished 27-45 for 279 yards and touchdown. He also "rushed" the ball six times when the pocket collapsed, amassing 28 yards and a score.

  • The Crimson and Gray defenses combined for 10 sacks and 14 tackles-for-loss, though they had to only touch the quarterback for a "sack."

  • Safety Taylor Taliulu and linebacker Justin Sagote tied for the lead in tackles with 11.

  • The Cougars finished with -17 rushing yards because of the consistent pressure.

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