A few Washington State doubters responded by spitting out their lattes while laughing hysterically.
Yes, the current Ducks are not as good as the national powerhouse squads that Oregon has pumped out regularly in recent years. The Ducks, however, had won eight in a row against WSU by an average margin of 29 points. Oregon was averaging 42 points and 528 yards per game this season, and the Ducks were favored over the Cougars by 15 to 17 points at various Las Vegas bookmaking operations.
As it turned out, Washington State faced even longer odds come crunch time Saturday. It did not matter, because the Cougars silenced a raucous Autzen Stadium crowd of nearly 58,000 by scoring with one second left in regulation to force overtime, then won 45-38 in the second overtime after free safety Shalom Luani ended the game with an interception in the end zone.
“Shalom, he’s just all over the field,” said a beaming Jeremiah Allison, WSU’s senior linebacker. “People call me from back home (Los Angeles): ‘Who’s number 18 (Luani)? He’s BRINGIN’ it!’”
Plenty of Cougars were “bringin’ it” during a spectacularly entertaining contest that lasted nearly four hours. The lead changed hands four times, and there were two ties. WSU sophomore quarterback Luke Falk completed 50 of 74 passes for 505 yards and five touchdowns to counter the sensational performance of Oregon sophomore running back Royce Freeman. The 5-foot-11, 230-pound Freeman, a frightening combination of speed and power, carried the ball 27 times for 246 yards and two TD’s.
“He’s a horse,” WSU nickel back Parker Henry said. “His legs, they were big. We’ve got to work on our tackling this (next) week. He’s one of the better players in the country.”
The Cougars won despite giving up 533 total yards, including 410 on the ground. Oregon ran the ball 50 times and attempted only 22 passes.
“We could really base our (defensive) play calls on their predictability,” Henry said.
Oregon continues to play without No. 1 quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. The senior transfer from Eastern Washington broke the index finger on his throwing hand in the season opener.
“The defense played awesome,” Falk said. “Each week, they‘re just getting better and better and tougher and tougher.”
The Ducks’ young secondary was smoked again and again and again. WSU piled up 641 total yards, including 136 on the ground.
“We played a full game,” Cougars wide receiver Gabe Marks said. “That’s the most important thing I think we take from this game.”
“I don’t think we played a complete game,” WSU coach Mike Leach said, “but I thought we played extremely hard the whole time.”
The Cougars did give up far too many long plays, and Falk was sacked seven times for the second game in a row. Falk continues to hold on to the ball too long at times, but the Cougars will settle for 505-yard passing days pretty much anytime, anywhere.
“This is the kind of win you can think about for about 15 hours,” Leach said. “Then you have to forget about it, tell your grandchildren and focus a whole lot on Oregon State.”
The Cougars face Oregon State at homecoming in Pullman next Saturday (1 p.m., Pac-12 Networks). The rebuilding Beavers (2-3, 0-2) are alone in last place in the North Division after getting pasted 44-7 at Arizona on Saturday.
“We had some good opportunities in every phase to close it out and didn’t get it done,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. “I thought we played hard.”
Washington State (3-2, 1-1) climbed out of a last-place tie and surged ahead of Oregon (3-3, 1-2), the defending Pac-12 champion.
“We know what kind of team we are,” Allison said. “I guess it (Saturday’s win) just validates what we’ve all been preaching since the start of the season: This is a different team. We’re trying to do something different than what’s been done over the past decade or so.”
Freeman’s third touchdown of the game (one on a catch) gave Oregon a 31-21 lead with 8:20 left in the fourth quarter. WSU’s Erik Powell kicked a 22-yard field goal with 3:53 to go, then Powell converted the extra point to tie the score at 31-31 after Dom Williams – who dropped a certain touchdown pass earlier in the game – soared high to snatch a TD pass with 1 second left in regulation.
“I know what kind of player Dom is,” Falk said, “so I’m going to keep going to him.”
The Cougars’ last drive of the fourth quarter began with 1:58 remaining. Leach said he didn’t give “much” consideration to going for two points and the win at the end of regulation.
Leach loves to gamble on fourth down, and the Cougars were successful on four of five tries Saturday at Autzen Stadium. The coach said it was “a little bit difficult” for him to opt for the late field goal on fourth-and-5.
“I feel a sense of (potential) failure with field goals,” Leach said.
Asked if he was surprised Leach went for the field goal, Marks smiled broadly and said, “Honestly, yeah, actually. I was running off the field. I was like, ‘Wow. That’s different,’ because we go for it a lot.”
River Cracraft led WSU with nine catches for 85 yards, and Marks had eight receptions for 111 yards and two touchdowns. Cracraft appeared to score the game-winning touchdown, but it was credited to Robert Lewis after the ball popped up directly into Lewis’ hands after Cracraft was tackled at the goal line.
“I thought he (Cracraft) broke the plane,” Falk said. “Then I saw it (the ball) bounce up. I go, ‘Oh crap.’ Sometimes the refs get it wrong or something. But Robert was right there, so no matter what, I was pretty confident we scored.”
- The Ducks’ other two losses have been to current No. 4 Michigan State and current No. 5 Utah.
- Oregon has lost two straight home games for the first time since 2002.
- The Ducks were 27-0 since 2013 when leading after three quarters.
- WSU’s players gathered in the west end zone after the game to celebrate with a few hundred crimson-clad fans. Dozens of WSU fans cheered and chanted outside the team’s locker room after the game.
- In a battle between two seniors who are drawing interest from the NFL, Cougars offensive left tackle Joe Dahl did a fine job against versatile Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner. The latter found some success after he began lining up away from Dahl.