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Falk makes history as Washington State beats Utah
SALT LAKE CITY — Breaking passing records forms as big of a part of Luke Falk’s game as putting on shoulder pads and a helmet.
The senior quarterback claimed another top spot in the record books in leading Washington State to a 33-25 win over Utah on Saturday. Falk threw for 311 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Cougars.
Those three scores moved him past former USC quarterback Matt Barkley as the Pac-12 leader in career touchdown passes. He has thrown 118 touchdown passes. Barkley totaled 116 at USC.
While setting records always feels good, what carried greater meaning for Falk was having a chance to earn a big win for the Cougars in his home state.
“I had more butterflies for this game than I’ve ever had and I just really wanted to come out here and put on a good performance for my teammates and just do my job,” Falk said. “This one really means a lot to me. I’m not going to lie about that. It really does.”
Washington State (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12) earned its third straight win in the series with the Utes (5-5, 2-5). The Cougars moved into a tie with Stanford atop the Pac-12 North and can clinch a divisional crown with a win over Washington in two weeks.
A Pac-12 North title would be the first championship of any kind for Washington State since it shared a Pac-10 title in 2012.
“For the last three years, we’ve been right on the cusp of the thing,” Cougars coach Mike Leach said. “We’ll see. This is a good group. We’ve won a lot of games in the Pac-12 in the last three years. We need to win another one.”
Tyler Huntley threw for 305 yards and a touchdown and added 51 yards on the ground to lead the Utes. Huntley also threw three interceptions, part of seven Utah turnovers overall. The Cougars scored 23 points off those turnovers.
Utah must win one of its final two games against Colorado or Washington to become bowl eligible.
“We pressed too much,” receiver Demari Simpkins said. “People tried to do too much.”
If anything lacked for Washington State in how it opened up the game, it was an inability to finish in the red zone. The Cougars ultimately went 6-of-6 inside the 20, but settled for field goals three times.
Four times, turnovers gave Washington State the ball inside Utah’s 30 yard line. The Cougars totaled a touchdown and two field goals on those drives.
“We moved the ball really well,” Falk said. “It’s just we got to that red area and for some reason we just stalled. Three times we were able to punch it in. If we do our job and put it in, it’s not as close of a game and we don’t have to put that stress on the defense. We just got to find a way when we get in that area to put the ball in play and make positive plays.”
Washington State capitalized on early Utah turnovers to jump out to a 13-0 first-quarter lead. The Utes had two fumbles and an interception over three straight drives to give the Cougars short fields.
Robert Taylor stripped the ball from Simpkins after a first-down catch on Utah’s second drive, with Jalen Thompson recovering at the Utah 46. Falk converted three third downs, including a 11-yard screen pass to Tavares Martin Jr. for a touchdown, to cash in the turnover.
Taylor intercepted Huntley near midfield on Utah’s third drive to set up a 44-yard field goal from Erik Powell. Then, on the Utes’ fourth drive, Hercules Mata’afa forced a fumble when he sacked Huntley and recovered the ball on the Utah 19. Powell turned that turnover into a 32-yard field goal.
“The defense had their backs to the wall the whole first quarter and things could have really gotten out of hand,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “Our red zone defense was tremendous. This is a good offense and (when) you hold them to that type of yardage, you expect to win.”
Utah settled down and rallied in the second quarter.
A 56-yard field goal from Matt Gay put the Utes on the board. Then Zack Moss punched it in from 2 yards out to cut Washington State’s lead to 13-10. Simpkins set up the score when he hauled in a 71-yard catch down the middle of the field to get Utah inside the 10-yard line.
Falk helped steal back some momentum with a 1-yard toss to Kyle Sweet to put the Cougars up 20-10 with 3:02 left in the second quarter.
Utah cut it to 26-18 in the fourth quarter on a 1-yard dash from Moss. Then Thompson recovered another fumble at the Utah 14, setting up a 6-yard strike from Falk to Isaiah Johnson-Mack. It gave Washington State a 33-18 lead with 8:23 left, dimming Utah’s comeback hopes.
The Utes narrowed the gap again on a 12-yard touchdown catch by Raelon Singleton. They were driving for a possible tying touchdown when Chima Onyeukwu snagged a tipped pass at midfield with 58 seconds left to secure the win.
“We don’t like to play any other way,” Mata’afa said. “We like to come downhill at you and put some pressure on your quarterback. That’s what we do. We got after the rock tonight. It was big for us.”
NOTES: Utah PK Matt Gay has made five field goals of 50 yards or longer this season, the most of any kicker in the nation. His 56-yarder in the second quarter matched a career-high set against San Jose State on Sept. 16. ... Washington State DT Hercules Mata’afa had three sacks, four tackles for loss and a forced fumble in the first half. ... Utah had two yards on 29 carries in the first three quarters. ... Washington State totaled seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss. Utah lost 60 total yards on those plays.