Washington St. came from behind against Oregon St. in both the first and last quarters Saturday afternoon, and then the Cougars held off a late Beaver rally to claim the 39-32 win.
For the second week in a row, and third consecutive home game at Reser, Oregon St. has come from behind, and taken a lead in the 4th quarter that they couldn't hold. As a result, the Beavers have now lost 4 games in a row, and 10 of their last 11 Pac-12 Conference games, and dropped into last place in the Pac-12 North.
It was certainly a back and forth, competitive contest, with both teams making a number of notable plays, as well as preventing a number of big plays by the opponent. And the outcome was in doubt until Vince Mahle's 6th catch of the game picked up the first down that allowed Washington St. to essentially run the last couple of minutes on clock out.
But both teams also had a number of dubious moments. And then there was the notorious Pac-12 officiating, which may have established a new low standard for inexplicably bad decisions. A couple were disastrous for Oregon St., but there were also a couple that were equally damaging to Washington St., and equally ridiculous.
Washington St. redshirt freshman Luke Falk, above, making his first career start, after the Cougars lost record setting quarterback Connor Halliday to a broken leg in last week's loss to USC, which ended any hope of the Cougars recording a non-losing season, or going to a bowl game, looked every bit the new, improved version of Halliday.
Falk completed 44 of 61 passes, for 471 yards, and 5 touchdowns. And with zero turnovers, the one thing that frequently derailed Halliday.
It was all the more impressive, given that whomever Washington St. had at quarterback, the Cougs did not have River Craycraft, one of their top receivers available. But just as Halliday's absence was unnoticeable, so to was Craycraft's as Falk found 9 different receivers, and 5 of them at least a half dozen times apiece.
It overshadowed another tremendous performance against Washington St. by Sean Mannion, who set an Oregon St. school record with 493 passing yards against the Cougars in last year's 52-24 Beaver win. The Pac-12's leading passer all-time completed 31 of 41 passes, for 419 yards. But also only 1 touchdown, as Oregon St. 4 times had to settle for field goals.
Only the one before half-time came in a situation where time was a factor, and that became more of an issue than it should have after another episode of bad clock and timeout management. Which unfortunately for Beaver fans, was only a warmup for more of the same in the second half, though incompetent Pac-12 review officiating was also responsible for one of those incidents.
Somewhere in the third quarter, it dawned on me; we were watching MACtion, that weekly display of entertaining but inconsistent performance that is the mid-major Mid-American Conference. Unfortunately, we are paying Pac-12 prices to do so. And Oregon St. is Kent St., not Northern Illinois.
The game couldn't have gotten off to a much better start, as Oregon St. marched 75 yards on the first 4 plays of the game, starting off with a 49 yard completion from Sean Mannion to former Cougar Rahmel Doclery to start the drive, above, and 14 yard touchdown pass to wide open Connor Hamlett to cap it, below.
And though Washington St. responded by driving to the Oregon St. 8 yard line, as Falk completed 5 consecutive passes, the Cougars came away empty, after Quentin Breshears missed a 31 yard field goal after the Beavers' Jaswha James, who returned to action for the first time since the Utah game, sacked Falk to thwart the scoring threat.
Mannion responded by completing 3 consecutive passes, for 58 yards, and Chris Brown, above, who saw the most playing time of his career at running back, added another 10 yard run.
Brown got a large share of play today due to Storm Woods being a pre-game scratch, due to a pulled muscle that didn't respond adequately to treatment this week.
Washington St. coach Mike Leach took a time-out defensively at that point, and it was one of the coaching moves of the game.
The Cougars righted themselves, and held the Beavers to a 24 yard Garrett Owens field goal. Owens was kicking after Trevor Romaine got himself suspended for the second time this year, for violating an unspecified athletic department policy.
Oregon St. wouldn't score again until late in the second quarter, after Falk had directed consecutive long scoring drives of 75 yards, above to Isiah Myers, and 79 yards, when the Beavers added a pair of additional Owens field goals.
Unfortunately for the Beavers, they were wrapped around a 48 yard Falk to Mahle touchdown pass down the left sideline, above, and the Cougars took a 21-16 lead to the locker room for the break.
After a battle of the bands at halftime, plus the famous (or infamous) "Dancing Dads" performance for "Dads' Day Weekend", above, Oregon St. turned in a much better third quarter defensively, allowing only a 32 yard Breshears field goal at the end of Washington St.'s second half opening 13 play drive.
The Beavers pulled within 2 points on the ensuing drive, which featured 6 Terron Ward runs, including 5 in a row at the end, capped by a 1 yard touchdown run, below.
Trailing by 2, a 2 point conversion attempt was the right call, but Mannion's pass fell incomplete, and Washington St. still led 24-22.
After an exchange of punts, Washington St. mounted the next scoring threat, driving to the Oregon St. 28. But 4 consecutive incompletions on passes target for Mahle, including a 4th and 10 gamble that demonstrated Coach Leach's lack of confidence in Breshears after the first quarter miss, and another successful but less than confidence inspiring kick, turned the ball back over to the Beavers.
Mannion found Jordan Villamin for a 29 yard completion in response, and appeared to have put Oregon St. back ahead, with a 38 yard pass and run on a diagonal crossing route to Victor Bolden. But a holding penalty on Hunter Jarmon , above left, wiped out the latter half of the play.
Instead of a touchdown, Oregon St. again had to settle for an Owens field goal, and took only a 25-24 lead as a result, instead of going up by 5 points.
Falk responded with a half dozen completions on the next drive, and overcame a sack by the Beavers' Bud Delva, with an 18 yard touchdown pass to Dom Williams on the next play, above, to take the lead back for good. Falk also completed a pass to Ricky Galvin for a 2 point conversion to make it 7 point lead, with the Cougars up 32-25.
The next Oregon St. drive was effectively thwarted when a Mannion pass was batted down, and incorrectly (and inexplicably) ruled a backward pass. It not only resulted in a 15 yard loss, it also cost a time out, as Coach Mike Riley challenged the erroneous call, and replay unbelievably upheld it.
After a short, 28 yard Keith Kostol punt, Falk directed a 6 pass touchdown drive, capped by a 9 yard scoring toss to Robert Lewis that put the Cougars ahead by 2 touchdowns with less than 6 minutes left.
Mannion responded with a 75 yard touchdown drive of his own, aided by an absurd targeting penalty on Washington St.'s Daquan Brown, for shoulder to shoulder contact while trying to avoid Ward after an overthrown pass. That was automatically reviewed, and D. Brown will miss the first half of the Cougars' next game at Arizona St. in 2 weeks as a result of the make-up mis-review.
Mannion then hit 4 consecutive completions, and Ward pulled the Beavers within 1 score with a 1 yard run for his second score of the game. But the Beavers had to burn a timeout after an officiating error started the play clock too soon before that, leaving them with only 1 for the final 3 minutes of the game.
And Oregon St. would never get the ball back. A pooch kick out of an illegal kicking formation that had only 3 players on one side of the kicker resulted in a touchback plus a penalty, and Falk's completion to Mahle after Oregon St. had used their final timeout made it possible to run the clock down to 3 seconds. Fittingly, a bad call on the play that would have forced a punt allowed the Cougars to kneel down to end it instead of having to avoid a blocked punt to put the game away.
Mahle, above, finished with a game high 143 yards, on 6 catches, while Bolden, below, led Oregon St., with 126 yards, on a game high 10 catches.
Villamin added 84 yards on 5 catches. Oddly, Dockery was only targeted again one other time after his 49 yard catch on the first play of the game, and that resulted in a drop.
Ward ran for a game high 49 yards, on 11 carries, while Washington St.'s Jamal Morrow led the Cougs, with 46 yards on 9 carries. But the teams combined for only 72 net yards, as both Falk and Mannion were sacked 4 times, and the loss on the incomplete pass that was mis-ruled a lateral also counts as a negative rushing play.
Oregon St.'s 4th consecutive loss dropped them to 4-5 for the season, and 1-5 in the conference. The Beavers host Arizona St. (8-1, 4-1) next Saturday night. The Sun/Darkness Devils, currently 9th ranked, will enter the game higher in the polls than that, after pounding 10th ranked Notre Dame 55-31 this afternoon.
Washington St. picked up just their 3rd win of the season, improving to 3-7, and 2-5 in the Pac-12. The Cougars have a bye next week, before a trip to Tempe.
While drops, penalties (Oregon St. was flagged 10 times for 100 yards), clock mis-management, and more were also issues again, the big issue for the Beavers was an inconsistent ability to get pressure on Falk. Despite the 4 sacks, much of the time, Falk had far too much time to throw, and not coincidentally, Washington St. receivers had a lot of time to work with.
Trailing receivers in particular, working behind the primary play, frequently found gaps in the coverage.
And it didn't matter if Oregon St. used a 3 man front, a 2 man front (tried several times in conjunction with a blitzing linebacker in the first half), or a 4 man rush, as they did primarily in the second half. Blitzing was unsuccessful on several occasions, and when the blitz didn't get home, Falk was very good at throwing behind the blitz.
But the most vexing issue was that a couple of Washington St. touchdowns came on plays where Oregon St. did not line up in a matchup where there was anyone aligned to defend the Cougar receiver, allowing Falk uncontested pitch and catch opportunities.
Tyler Baker's touchdown catch early in the second quarter, above, was an extreme example.
With 2 top 10 opponents left in Oregon St.'s 3 remaining games, and the Beavers needing 2 wins to even be bowl eligible, and avoid a losing season, post-November play now seems a very remote possibility, and its not a result of a lack of effort, as today's game, while less than sharp at times, was hotly contested all the way.
But as a result of another day of miscues and missed opportunities, its also not easy to envision a way Coach Riley's career can continue, or how Athletic Director Bob DeCarolis could justify it if it does.
A season high crowd of 44,377 attended Dad's Day, but the presence of the largest visitor contingent of the season, and double sale of an increasing number of turned back season tickets, accounted for a lot of that. That's not a sustainable business model, especially in a 5-10 run.
Washington St. is the latest team on an increasingly long list that doesn't include Oregon State to celebrate a win at Reser.
(Photos by Andy Wooldridge)