Washington State flips Rutgers in a seesaw battle, 37-34
New Brunswick, NJ: The Birthplace of College Football – After 59 minutes of poor defense, costly penalties, turnovers, explosive special teams play, no pass rush by RU, and coaching wonders and blunders, Washington State QB Luke Falk tossed an eight-yard TD pass to WR River Cracraft with thirteen seconds left to play to take its first victory of 2015 back to Pullman, Washington, 37-34. Rutgers attempted a rugby-like comeback on the final kickoff that almost resulted in a safety before the final ball carrier flipped the ball forward for a penalty as no time remained on the clock. This non-conference game would be the most difficult for the Scarlet Knights to gauge how they will possibly withstand the upcoming Big Ten schedule that starts next week at Penn State. Many Rutgers faithful came away trying to determine if the Knights would have a shot at its tenth bowl game in eleven seasons. After this loss, few seemed optimistic.
Facing the pass-happy Cougars coached by Mike “ I refuse to punt” Leach, who we’d seen coach previously with the same mantra during his tenure at Texas Tech, RU’s secondary decimated by scandalous crimes allowed Luke Falk’s’ first of four TD passes, this one to Dom Williams, for a seven-yard score to polish off a 75-yard opening drive. The Knights punted after their first possession and WAZU’s Kyrin Preister took it out of the end zone for a short return to the 13. What was he thinking? The Cougs drove down to the RU 12. Typical of Leach as seen in the past, he decided to forgo an attempt for three to extend his early lead, and RU stopped a sneak by Falk to take the ball back on downs.
In the second period Rutgers starting QB Chris Laviano came up limping and threw an INT to Marcellus Pippins who made a leaping over the head grab. Starting at The Scarlet Knights’ 34, the Cougars capitalized with a 46-yard FG by Erik Powell for a 10-0 State lead. Many RU fans anticipated a timely QB change by HC Kyle Flood to bringing in Hayden Rettig who had started well the week before against Norfolk State, but he stuck with his starter throughout the entire game. It paid off right away somewhat with a 37-yard FG by Kyle Federico. However, Falk (47 for 66, 478 yards, 4 TDs) continued connecting until his next drive stalled at RU’s 30. Leach’s head cleared again and Powell added another three instead of attempting to go five yards on a fourth down with 52 seconds left. But the Knights gave it a shot of their own as Laviano completed five consecutive passes to the WAZU 25. An illegal formation pushed them back five, and Federico booted a 48-yard FG to close out the first half scoring, 13-6, in favor of the visitors.
RU’s opening drive of the second half resulted in a fumble by Laviano who reached back to throw as it slipped out of his hand to have it recovered by DL Destiny Vaeao at his team’s 36. Falk threw his second TD of the day to RB Keith Harrington from the five extending State’s lead, 20-6. On Rutgers’ ensuing drive, Flood decided go for a first down on 4th and six at the 36, and it paid off with a 20-yard gain on a pass to Janarion Grant to the 16. RB Robert Martin (9 rushes for 61 yards, 1 TD) slithered his way through the Cougar defense for a 15-yard score. Washington State blocked the extra point to keep the margin at eight. RU pooch-kicked for some unknown reason, and the Cougs started from their 37. The drive died at the RU 32 on fourth and three when Falk’s pass attempt to Cracraft (8 catches for 121 yards, 1 TD) fell incomplete. The Knights started their drive from that spot and ran the ball successfully to get to their one when time expired in the third.
On the first play of the final period, Laviano connected to the right side to TE Mike Flanagan (Mendham, NJ) to get within two. He followed up with a pass for the two-point conversion to WR Leonte Caroo (4 catches, 52 yards, 2 points) who came open late crossing the back of the end zone on the play. The score was deadlocked now, 20-20. State’s next drive resulted in a 37-yard FG by the strong-legged Powell. Note that on the drive, RU burned its third and final time-out. Two including the third seemed wasted. In any case, having no time outs would be critical in a close, high-scoring game. The Cougars three-point margin did not last long as Scarlet Knight returner Janarion Grant caught the kickoff in the end zone, started up the right sideline, cuts across the field, found blockers and a seam, and ran down the left sideline for a 100-yard TD return. The home crowd celebrated its first lead, 27-23. Plenty of time remained, however, with 12:30 remaining for both teams to continue to light up the scoreboard. The Cougars had three time-outs left to RU’s none. State did not disappoint their small turn-out (I saw two in a liquor store by my house before the game) 3,000 miles from Pullman. Falk hit Gabe Marks (14 receptions, 146 yards, 1 TD) with an out pass for a 23-yard TD to go back in front, 30-27. Marks grab looked short of the goal line from where Frank Scarpa and I sat with his fellow RU alum, Phil, in section 108, but Marks’ foot hit the pylon and the TD stood. The ball did not look like it broke the plane of the end zone. State also kicked the ball short, and RU started from the 48. RB Josh Hicks (16 carries for 91 yards) caught the ball out of the backfield, but Peyton Pueller stripped the ball away and Isaac Dotson recovered at the 32. The Cougs drove to the RU 39, and on fourth and six, Mike Leach handed the Knights a gift as Falk’s pass fell incomplete to give the Knights the ball with great field position. One RU fan nearby said, “The Washington State coach is an imbecile.” We agreed. The teams exchanged punts – yes, with a 4th and six from his own 24 even Leach decided not to go for it. He might as well have though. Janarion Grant was on the receiving end and took it 55 yards for a 34-30 lead. With 1:31 remaining and two time-outs left for Washington State, everyone in High Point Solutions Stadium among the 45,536 fans still remaining knew that Rutgers had scored with too much time left on the clock. Falk went to work again with his short passing game eventually converting on a fourth and five at Rutgers’ 38 for a 12-yard pass to Robert Lewis to keep the drive alive before the game-winning score to Cracraft (8 catches for 121 yards, 1 TD). An exciting finish to a crazy game, but a resounding one for the die-hard Rutgers fans.
Next week, Rutgers (1-1) travels to State College to take on the Nittany Lions (1-1) in their Big Ten opener. We will be there for the 8 pm kickoff. RU has this game circled since last season’s 13-10 loss in their Big Ten Debut. One hundred thousand PSU fans will be there to see that Penn State stays on course to improve upon its season after a loss to Temple and a 27-14 win over Buffalo last week. Against Temple, PSU used a short passing game that did not work against the tight coverage Temple gave them. The RU secondary struggles, but so does the offensive line of Penn State. It will be a matchup to determine whose weakness is worse, or who can make the adjustments to improve to right themselves for the balance of the season.
Extra points: RU fans though t this would be a win. Now they only consider Kansas (0-2) and Army (0-2) as their best bets for wins. Indiana is away and Maryland is at the far end of the season. Ohio State, Michigan State and Nebraska will visit Piscataway. PSU, Michigan, and Wisconsin loom as road games.