PULLMAN — Any celebration about another accomplishment for No. 24 Washington State was tempered by concern over an injury that resulted in quarterback Luke Falk being carted off the field.
Gabe Marks and Dom Williams both had touchdown receptions and Washington State beat Colorado 27-3 on Saturday night despite Falk suffering an apparent head injury.
Falk was taken off the field on a backboard with 8:16 left in the third quarter after being sacked by Samson Kafovalu. Falk’s head slammed against the turf on a below-freezing night on the Palouse, and he appeared to be knocked out. He was tended to on the field for 7 minutes, and his facemask was removed and he was immobilized as he was carted away. Falk gave two thumbs up and waved his hands as he left the field.
Falk’s injury came a week after he was checked for a concussion against UCLA and passed protocol, allowing him to return in the second half.
Washington State coach Mike Leach tersely declined to answer any questions regarding Falk’s injury, citing his stance on speaking about injuries, and the school provided no updates on Falk’s status. Leach at one point threatened to walk out if the questions about Falk’s status continued.
“I didn’t know what happened,” Williams said. “I was praying for the best.”
Before getting hurt, Falk was 27 of 35 for 199 yards and one touchdown against the Buffaloes. When Falk returns will be a lingering question as the Cougars (8-3, 6-2 Pac-12) have a short turnaround before facing rival Washington in the Apple Cup on Friday.
Washington State won for the sixth time in seven games, reached the eight-win mark for the first time since 2003 and preserved hopes for just the sixth 10-win season in school history if the Cougars can beat Washington on Friday and win their bowl game. The Cougars closed out their home slate with a convincing victory after opening the season with a stunning home loss to FCS Portland State.
That chance to get to 10 wins depends largely on Falk’s health. The sophomore entered the week leading the Pac-12 in passing and was second in the country. His 11-yard TD pass to Williams in the second quarter gave him 36 TD passes for the season, six behind Marcus Mariota’s Pac-12 record of 42 last season.
Peyton Bender stepped in and was 13 of 21 for 133 yards and a 16-yard TD to Marks with 14:25 left and a 24-3 Washington State lead. It was Marks’ 14th touchdown catch of the season, setting a new single-season school record. Marks also went over 1,000 yards receiving for the season, becoming the 11th different wide receiver in Washington State history to reach that mark.
The drop between Falk and Bender isn’t significant. They were in competition through most of fall camp for the starting job.
“Hopefully he’s all right and he can get back to playing for us as soon as possible,” Bender said of Falk.
Gerard Wicks rushed for 123 yards, becoming Washington State’s first 100-yard rusher since James Montgomery in 2010 against Montana State. Keith Harrington added a 1-yard TD run for the Cougars.
Colorado quarterback Cade Aspay was 26 of 40 for 238 yards in his first college start replacing Sefo Liufau, who is out for the season due to a foot injury. Aspay was intercepted twice and the Buffaloes (4-8, 1-7) got just three points out of six drives into Washington State territory, including a poor snap on fourth-and-goal at the 2 with 7:42 left that Aspay could only dive on.
Diego Gonzalez missed field goals of 47 and 33 yards in the first half and Aspay was picked off by Taylor Taliulu on fourth-and-19 early in the fourth quarter.
“Different times in different games we’ve had opportunities to make plays,” Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said. “Tonight we kind of screwed ourselves.”
Gonzalez hit from 24 yards late in the third quarter, but the three points were the fewest allowed by Washington State to a Pac-10/12 opponent since beating Oregon State 24-3 on Oct. 12, 1996.
“I thought they had a real inspired effort,” Leach said of his defense. “As they kind of got in sync in the second half I thought they played extremely well.”
Nelson Spruce had 10 catches for 120 yards, his seventh career game with double-digit receptions.
Before his injury, Falk was content to throw underneath as the Cougars couldn’t push the ball downfield. Aside from Williams’ 29-yard reception on fourth down that set up the Cougars first score, Falk’s longest throw in the first half was a 15-yard strike to Marks. Falk completed 21 of 23 passes in the first half, but averaged just 6.8 yards per attempt.