Wide receivers Dom Williams and Gabe Marks share a little motivational expression. They call themselves the best duo in Washington State University history.
They needed to be that and more Saturday afternoon in the 108th Apple Cup — and were not even close.
When backup quarterback Peyton Bender got the nod for his first career start against Washington, he looked for Williams and Marks often, especially in the first half.
Williams dropped a sure touchdown on the first offensive series. And Marks’ case of the dropsies lasted much of the game — three dropped passes and a fumbled reception that turned into a UW defensive touchdown.
It all added up to a 45-10 UW victory at Husky Stadium.
“You know, 99 percent of the time they make the catch,” Cougars running back Jamal Morrow said. “It just happened today they were not on point. They are still our guys, you know. They still made huge plays throughout the season for us.”
Completing his first six passes, Bender had Williams wide open on a bubble screen along the left sideline on third down at the Huskies’ 24.
Williams had it in his hands. And he could not hang onto it. The Cougars settled for Erik Powell’s 41-yard field goal for an early 3-0 lead.
“If he catches that ball, it looked like he was probably going to go in and score,” Bender said. “It is just unfortunate. We’ve got to make those plays.”
Marks’ biggest drops came on back-to-back drives:
▪ On third-and-10 from the Huskies’ 26, Marks bobbled a pass against tight coverage by Sidney Jones, and it fell out of his hands. Seconds later, Powell missed a 42-yard field goal attempt with 1:31 to go in the first quarter.
▪ It was nearly the same scenario — third down — on WSU’s next series when Bender delivered a perfect pass over coverage that Marks had in his hand, only to cough it up after a jarring hit by Budda Baker.
For an ordinary receiver, that might have been acceptable. Not for Marks, who owns three WSU receiving records and was on the Biletnikoff Award watch list for much of the season as the nation’s top pass catcher.
Marks had five receptions for 47 yards in the first half. Williams did not haul in his first pass until a 14-yarder in the final minute of the half. The Huskies led 17-3 at halftime.
“We had more drops there than we do in four practices,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “We are going to catch a lot of balls this next week (in practice). Matter of fact, we are going to catch more balls than I know I can count to — and probably most of you can, I can promise you that.”
It got worse for Marks. With the game well out of hand with 5:55 to go, the junior caught a pass cutting across the field toward the left sideline, but got his right leg caught up between defensive backs Kevin King and Darren Gardenhire on the tackle.
With his foot stuck, his leg bent back awkwardly as he fell to the turf. In obvious pain, he fumbled — and the ball was returned 28 yards by Gardenhire for a touchdown.
“That dude (Marks) is an awesome player,” UW linebacker Keishawn Bierria said. “Just to see somebody’s career get threatened so fast on one play … it’s just hard.
“They weren’t winning at the time, but still he was like, ‘Look, I’m going to catch this ball, and I’m going to try to go get something.’ He never stopped playing until the last whistle.”
Needing help off the field, Marks was eventually shuttled out of Husky Stadium on a cart before the game ended. He later indicated on Twitter that “everything’s good” with his leg.