PISCATAWAY, New Jersey — It didn't take much for Washington State coach Mike Leach to rally his players after they watched Janarion Grant return a punt 55 yards and give Rutgers a 34-30 lead with 1:31 to play on Saturday.
"I pulled up the offense and said, 'This is pretty exciting isn't it? This is real exciting. See how excited they are?'" Leach recalled. "I said 'If you want this thing to be twice as exciting why don't go down there and score? It will be twice as exciting,' and it was."
Leach put the ball in the hands of quarterback Luke Falk, who led a 10-play, 90-yard drive, finding River Cracraft with an eight-yard strike with :13 left to lift Washington State past Rutgers, 37-34.
It was part of a 47-of-66, 468-yard, four-touchdown day for Falk.
"I was thinking of the drive that John Elway had against the Cleveland Browns, and a few Tom Brady comeback drives," Falk said contemplating the 90 yards awaiting him. "That's why you play the game, so I was pretty excited to go out there and play. I knew we had been moving the ball pretty well all day. The cards worked out in our favor."
Grant tried to be the hero for Rutgers, returning two kicks for touchdowns. After his first, a 100-yard dash on a kickoff to give the Scarlett Knights a 27-23 lead with 12:30 remaining, many expected Washington State to kick the ball away from him clinging to a 30-27 advantage.
"There's quite a lot of thought on that now," Leach said. "I don't know the exact call. I'm thinking we tried to but just didn't hit it. But we should of."
Grant had the best game of his collegiate career, racking up a school record 337 all-purpose yards. When he ran for his last 55, Rutgers thought it would be enough.
"When you get a play from a great player like that and the energy in the stadium is as high as it was, there's no doubt in my mind that you're going to win the game," wide receiver Leonte Caroo said. "But that's why you can't celebrate until the clock says zero, so we have to go out there and finish."
Washington State had its moments when it thought it had won, too. With 33 seconds left, Falk completed a screen pass to Keith Harrington, who ran 30 yards for what seemed to be the go-ahead score. But video review showed he stepped out at the 21.
Two plays later, Falk hit Cracaft for the winning touchdown.
"There in the fourth quarter, I sort of felt like both sides were hitting aces," Leach said.
In a game that saw the lead change five times in the fourth quarter, Washington State answered Grant's 100-yard return with an eight play, 82-yard drive in 2:59. Falk hit Gabe Marks, who made a dazzling 23-yard touchdown catch to put the Cougars ahead 30-27 with 9:31 remaining.
On its next two drives Rutgers negated two touchdowns with penalties. Rutgers running back Josh Hicks fumbled on the ensuing drive after catching a screen pass and Isaac Dotson recovered for the Cougars. That came one play after a 21-yard touchdown was negated on a holding penalty on Chris Muller.
The Scarlet Knights defense stopped Washington State on fourth down with 6:10 left, but Justin Goodwin's offensive pass interference penalty negated a 29-yard touchdown catch by Grant.
Washington State jumped ahead early, taking the ball 75 yards in nine plays on the opening possession and capping it with a 7-yard pass from Falk to Dom Williams. Two field goals each, including a pair by Washington State's Erik Powell from 46 and 47 yards, left the Cougars ahead 13-6 at halftime.
The two sides traded touchdowns in the third to head into the final quarter with Washington State ahead 20-12. A 1-yard TD pass by Chris Laviano and subsequent two-point conversion toss to open the fourth tied the game at 20.
Powell kicked a third field goal, this time from 37 yards, to restore Washington State to the lead with 12:44 remaining before the game became one of big plays.
"It was definitely a roller coaster the whole game," Washington State's Peyton Pelleur said. "It comes down to guys wanting it. "
AP College Football website: http://www.collegefootball.ap.org