PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State had lost its season opener the past two years to members of the FCS Big Sky Conference, but the 24th-ranked Cougars weren’t going to let it happen a third time.
Luke Falk threw for 311 yards and three touchdowns, setting the school career touchdowns passing record, as Washington State beat Montana State 31-0 in the season opener for both teams on Saturday night.
Cougars offensive lineman Cole Madison noticed his teammates were a lot more focused on winning the opener this season.
“There was more urgency towards the game and winning the game,” Madison said. “We were ready to go.”
Among those most ready was Falk, who completed his first 20 passes of the game as Washington State won a season opener for the first time under sixth-year coach Mike Leach.
Montana State managed just 143 yards in the game, mostly on the ground.
“We played a complete game tonight,” Falk said. “The defense played outstanding, having a shutout at home.”
“Our whole defense played good,” Leach said. “We were pretty steady on offense. The steadiness and consistency was pretty positive for a first game.”
Leach had lost all five of his openers since arriving at Washington State in 2012.
Montana State suffered eight tackles-for-loss and three sacks and was unable to move the ball.
“That’s a Top 25 football team for a reason,” Montana State coach Jeff Choate said of the Cougars. “Our inability to sustain drives on offense was kind of the story of the evening.”
Falk completed 33 of 39 passes and was not intercepted. James Williams caught 13 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns.
Falk completed his first nine passes on WSU’s first drive, the last a shovel pass to Williams, who ran 11 yards for a touchdown. The score allowed Falk to tie Connor Halliday for most touchdown passes in school history at 90.
Falk’s streak of consecutive completed passes reached 18 with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Tavares Martin Jr. that lifted the Cougars to a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter. That allowed him to take sole possession of the school career touchdowns passing record with 91.
Montana State got a break when Grant Collins recovered a Washington State fumble on the Cougars’ 43. But Luke Daly missed a 42-yard field goal attempt and Washington State led 14-0 at halftime.
Jamal Morrow ran 29 yards for a touchdown to lift Washington State to a 21-0 lead midway through the third.
Falk fired a 24-yard touchdown pass to Williams in the fourth for a 28-0 lead.
Washington State was ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 for only the third time in the program’s history.
Montana State quarterback Chris Murray completed just 5 of 12 passes for a total of 28 yards, most of that in the fourth quarter. He also led his team in rushing with 55 yards.
Washington State had 511 yards of offense, including 150 yards on the ground. “They’re off to a nice start,” Leach said of his running backs.
DON’T TELL LUKE
Falk said no one mentioned that he had completed all 20 of his passes in the first half, and he did not realize the milestone. “We’ll celebrate this one tonight,” Falk said.
The last time the teams played, Washington State escaped with a 23-22 win in Pullman in 2010. But Montana State’s run-oriented offense had little success against the Cougars this time.
Washington State proved it could win a season opener, but the potent Air Raid pass attack that Leach is noted for had some stumbles against the Bobcats.
Montana State hosts South Dakota State in its home opener next Saturday.
Washington State hosts Boise State next Saturday, seeking revenge for last season’s loss in Boise