PASADENA, Calif. — A few UCLA players warmed up on Washington State’s side of the Rose Bowl field before the game, and the Cougars felt disrespected. That’s not a new emotion for players at a long-struggling, constantly overlooked Pac-12 school.
Several hours and several jaw-dropping moments later, Gabe Marks dived to make a catch that exacted revenge and made a statement: The Cougars are back in the game.
“People were not going to give us respect until they absolutely have to,” Marks said. “Now they have to.”
Marks caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Luke Falk with 3 seconds to play, sending Washington State to a 31-27 victory over No. 18 UCLA on Saturday night.
Washington State (7-3, 5-2) had an improbable addendum to what seemed to be a storybook ending to the Bruins’ home finale. Josh Rosen capped a desperate 80-yard drive by scrambling 37 yards and diving for the go-ahead touchdown with 1:09 to play for the Bruins (7-3, 4-3 Pac-12).
Falk answered with his own spectacular 75-yard drive ending with a remarkable, physical catch by Marks, who became the Cougars’ career receptions leader earlier in the game with his 196th catch.
“I was a little kid who dreamed about having a game-winning drive at the Rose Bowl,” said Falk, who lived in the Los Angeles area while growing up. “Any time you come down here and win at the Rose Bowl in the fashion that we did, it’s going to give us some momentum as a program.”
Falk returned from a mid-game injury after passing a concussion protocol to throw for 331 yards. He threw two TD passes to Marks, and the Cougars punctuated their resurgent season with their first win over a ranked team in 10 tries since 2013.
Coach Mike Leach’s club has won five of its last six games, giving the Cougars seven victories for the first time since 2003. Leach claimed he didn’t know about UCLA’s pregame use of the Cougars’ side of the field, but his players hadn’t missed it.
“Even if it’s your home field, you should have the decency to let us warm up,” linebacker Jeremiah Allison said.
Although Washington State would still need ample help to contend for the Pac-12 North title, Stanford’s loss to Oregon gave the Cougars reason to hope their comeback season can get even better. Washington State hosts Colorado on Saturday night.
Rosen went 33 for 57 for 340 yards, and the precocious freshman appeared to clinch the win after Jaleel Wadood’s end-zone interception with 3:13 left gave a last chance to the Bruins, who racked up 554 yards.
“I don’t think I’ve ever scored that many points on offense with only two touchdowns,” Rosen said. “We’ve got to convert. Our defense did the best they could against a really high-powered offense, and we just didn’t hold up our end of the bargain on offense.”
Rosen sprinted through the defense for his score and subsequently hit Thomas Duarte for the 2-point conversion.
But the Cougars went 75 yards in 66 seconds, and Marks hung on to the ball despite contact with the UCLA defender.
UCLA lost after leading at halftime for the first time in 32 games under coach Jim Mora. The Bruins also lost despite holding Washington State’s prolific Air Raid offense to 288 yards in the first three quarters.
Nate Starks had an early TD run for the Bruins, who still control their fate in the Pac-12 South despite a mediocre home finale. UCLA would win the division with season-ending road victories over Utah and Southern California.
“It’s something we have to get over quickly,” Mora said. “As crazy as it is, we’re still right in the hunt for what our goal was all along.”
Falk returned to the game in the second half after taking a violent sack and leaving the field in the second quarter. Falk, the Pac-12’s leader in yards passing and total offense, appeared to hit his head on the ground while getting hit by Jacob Tuioti-Mariner.
Falk downplayed the hit, saying he “got my bell rung a little bit.” Leach said he didn’t hesitate after Falk was cleared by team doctors to return.
Freshman Peyton Bender threw his first career touchdown pass to Dom Williams during Falk’s absence.
The Bruins allowed Washington State to stay close by hurting themselves: Ishmael Adams fumbled a punt return at the UCLA 14 in the second quarter and then committed defensive holding while his teammates sacked Bender on third down, allowing Bender to hit Williams for a short TD on the extra snap. UCLA committed 13 penalties overall.
UCLA kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn became the leading scorer in Pac-12 history with his 392nd career point when the Bruins’ opening drive ended with a 22-yard field goal. UCLA center Jake Brendel set a school record on the same drive with his 49th career start, surpassing linebacker Spencer Havner’s 10-year-old mark.
Marks’ TD catch midway through the third quarter put Washington State up 21-16. Marks broke Michael Bumpus’ school receptions record early in the second half.