Washington State (1-1) blew a 20-6 lead, overcame a series of inane penalties, weathered a 100-yard kickoff and a 55-yard punt return TDs by Janarion Grant to lift the Cougars past the Rutgers Scarlet Knights 37-34 Saturday in a wild one in Piscataway, N.J. (box). The Cougars, who lost absurdly to 31-point underdog Portland State last week, seemed fated for a second consecutive loss when Grant’s punt return lifted Rutgers to a 34-30 lead with 1:45 to play. But the Scarlet Knights had no answer for WSU quarterback Luke Falk.
Falk took the Cougars 90 yards in 10 plays in the final 90 seconds, capping the drive with an eight-yard TD to River Cracraft — and that, after WSU’s Keith Harrington was ruled out of bounds at the Rutgers 20 after he took a Falk screen into the end zone for an apparent TD.
Trailing 34-30, the Cougars faced fourth-and-five with 54 seconds left after officials whacked Rutgers with a five-yard encroachment penalty. Falk hit Robert Lewis for a first down, then threw the nullified TD to Harrington. Undaunted, Falk broke out of the pocket and ran 13 yards for a first down before finding Cracraft for the game-winning score.
Until that play, the game was punches and counter-punches. Falk, who started 10-for-10, had the Cougars ahead 20-6 with 8:55 to play in the third quarter, but Rutgers scored twice to tie it at 20. WSU led 23-20 on an Eric Powell field goal, but Grant returned a kickoff 100 yards early in the fourth to put the Scarlet Knights ahead 27-23.
Falk’s 23-yard TD to Gabe Marks — he made a dazzling catch with one foot in-bounds — gave WSU a 30-27 lead, but Grant’s 55-yard punt return sent Rutgers ahead 34-30 with 1:33 to go.
Falk completed 47 of 66 pass attempts for 478 yards and four touchdowns, 14 completions going to Marks, who finished with 146 yards. Cracraft caught eight for 121 yards.
The Cougars finished with 559 yards of total offense, including 81 on the ground in 16 attempts, led by Gerard Wicks’s 43. WSU did not commit a turnover.
The Cougars allowed 402 yards, including 198 rushing, and took advantage of 11 Rutgers penalties, including a sequence late in the fourth quarter when the Scarlet Knights were flagged for offensive passing interference and a false start. Rutgers had two touchdowns come off the board as a result of penalties. WSU LB Logan Tago twice was called for face mask penalties during a drive that Rutgers ended by tying at 20.
The Cougars, who lost to Rutgers 41-38 last year at CenturyLink Field, improved to 14-23-1 against the Big Ten Conference. The win was WSU’s first against a Big Ten foe since beating Purdue 33-27 in the 2001 Sun Bowl . . . Rutgers had the edge in the time of possession, 31:21 to 28:09 . . . The Cougars snapped a streak of nine consecutive losing road openers.
The Cougars return to Pullman at 5:30 p.m. next Saturday to host the University of Wyoming ( Pac-12 Networks).