SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Washington State Cougars are officially one victory away from being named Pac-12 North champions, and their College Football Playoff hopes remain alive.
Luke Falk threw for 311 yards and three touchdowns and No. 19 Washington State beat Utah 33-25 on Saturday.
The Cougars are now one win from winning the North and playing in the conference championship game for the first time since the league created divisions in 2011.
“For the last three years, we’ve been right on the cusp of the thing,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said. “We’ll see. This is a good group. We’ve won a lot of games in the Pac-12 in the last three years. We need to win another one.”
Washington State (9-2, 6-2) led from start to finish and could have won by more, but settled for five field goals despite moving inside the Utah 30 on those possessions. The Utes turned over the ball on three of its first four possessions, all in the first quarter, but the Cougars found the end zone on just one of the extra opportunities.
Utah (5-5, 2-5) had seven turnovers on the day and has lost five of its last six games.
Chima Onyeukwu picked off Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley’s pass with 58 seconds remaining to seal the win.
Falk set the Pac-12 career touchdown passes record in the second quarter. The Logan, Utah, native surpassed former USC quarterback Matt Barkley with his 117th touchdown pass and finished with 118.
“The only thing I’m after is a championship win and we’re one game away,” said Falk. “If we do our job and put it in, it’s not as close of a game and we don’t have to put that stress on the defense.
The “Air Raid” offense was held in relative check by a stout Utah defense that was put in bad positions all game. It finished with 338 total yards and just 27 on the ground. Falk also threw two interceptions.
Tavares Martin Jr. had 10 catches for 64 yards and a touchdown for Washington State.
“Our defense was lights out tonight,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “But it wasn’t enough to overcome seven turnovers. Going minus-4 before (the Hail Mary interception), can’t win doing that. … It could have very easily got out of hand in the first half, but our red-zone defense was tremendous.
“Most important stat in football other than the score is the turnover margin and we were on the wrong end of that by a long shot.”
The Washington State defense played well throughout, bottling up the Utah run game and harassing Huntley. Defensive end Hercules Mata’afa entered the game as the league’s second leading sack artist with 6.5 and added three more Saturday. Huntley finished with 305 passing yards, one touchdown, three interceptions and 51 rushing yards on 20 attempts. He was sacked seven times. Running back Zack Moss had 32 yards and two touchdowns on 13 attempts.
“Mental mistakes by us (early) and it cost us,” Huntley said. “We’ve got a lot of things to work on.”
Washington State: Things couldn’t have gone any better for the Cougars this weekend. Stanford beat Washington to put the three teams in a tie with two Pac-12 losses. The Cougars own the tiebreak over the Cardinal and have just one game remaining — against rival Washington. An Apple Cup victory in the regular-season finale would clinch the North Division. WSU last won a conference title in 2002 when it tied USC. The program last won the conference outright in 1930.
Utah: The Utes can be proud of their defense, but the offense reverted to its struggling ways with an erratic run game. The turnovers are unacceptable. Utah’s goal is simply to become bowl eligible and it needs to win one of its final two games to get there.
The Cougars should move up in the poll and College Football Playoff ranking with No. 17 Virginia Tech and No. 12 Michigan State losing.
Utah leading receiver Darren Carrington did not play and was on the sideline in street clothes. Defensive end Kylie Fitts left the game and was seen with his arm in the sling. Starting safety Chase Hansen and linebacker Sunia Tauteoli, also, did not play due to an undisclosed injuries.
Utah athletic director Chris Hill said the south end zone of Rice-Eccles Stadium will be renovated by 2021. An email survey will be sent to fans out soon to gather information. The South end zone currently holds both locker rooms and the renovation could increase seating capacity.
“This is the biggest project we’ll have in 20 years,” Hill said.
Washington State: Travels to face quarterback Jake Browning and No. 9 Washington on Nov. 25.
Utah: Travels to face the Huskies on Saturday in Pac-12 action.
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