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Rutgers rallies in 4th to beat Cougars 41-38

SEATTLE (AP) — This long trip home from the West Coast will be far more enjoyable for Kyle Flood and Rutgers.

Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood, center, celebrates with his team after they beat Washington State 41-38
Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood, center, celebrates with his team after they beat Washington State 41-38 (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Paul James ran for 173 yards and scored his third touchdown with 3:24 left to give Rutgers a wild 41-38 victory over Washington State on Thursday night in the Scarlet Knights’ first game as a member of the Big Ten.

Gary Nova threw a 78-yard touchdown to Leonte Carroo on the first play from scrimmage and Rutgers withstood a passing onslaught from Washington State’s Connor Halliday, putting to rest the bad memories from last year’s season opening 52-51 overtime loss at Fresno State.

“It does a lot,” Nova said. “I think last year coming out here and losing the way we did to come back out here on the West Coast and win the way we did shows how hard we worked in the offseason and training camp and I know the guys are excited but we’ve got to get back to work.”

Rutgers won its opener for the sixth time in nine years and picked up a significant road victory with a challenging Big Ten slate ahead. It was Rutgers’ first victory ever over a Pac-12 school in five attempts.

Nova was 16 of 27 for 281 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but the Scarlet Knights rode James and the run game. James had 113 yards rushing in the first half and touchdown runs of 1 and 56 yards as Rutgers built a 21-10 lead.

The Scarlet Knights leaned on James at the end after getting the break they needed. Trailing 38-34 Rutgers was forced to punt with less than 8 minutes remaining. River Cracraft fielded the punt but was stripped by Johnathan Aiken and Anthony Cioffi recovered at midfield.

James carried on four straight plays and Nova hit consecutive passes, the second an 11-yard dart to Carroo to the 14 with 4:11 left. James capped the drive with a 3-yard TD run and Rutgers was back ahead, this time for good.

“We figured that they don’t see a whole lot of the run going against the air raid offense in practice,” James said. “We focused on pounding the run and keeping running the ball and it started working.”

Halliday did his part most of the night but was unable to put together a winning drive. The senior completed 40 of 56 passes for 532 yards and five touchdowns, but his fourth-down pass for Cracraft near midfield with 53 seconds left was batted away.

It was the second-highest yardage total in Halliday’s career, behind the 557 yards he threw for against Oregon last season on an NCAA record 89 attempts.

“We got to do it as a group, it’s not individuals. We got to come together as a group,” Halliday said. “There’s no finger-pointing … we didn’t get it done as an offense. It’s our job to go down and score, we didn’t. That’s a failure. We’ve got to figure out a way to go score.”

The final numbers won’t help the appearance of Rutgers defense that was among the worst in the country last season at stopping the pass. But the Scarlet Knights hung around in the middle two quarters when Halliday was rolling.

After an early interception, Halliday connected on 15 of his next 21 throws the rest of the half, including touchdown tosses of 4 yards to Isiah Myers and a 26-yard flick to Vince Mayle late in the first half to pull Washington State to 21-17 at the break.

He was even better in the third quarter, leading the Cougars to a pair of touchdowns with nearly flawless efficiency. Halliday hit on 13 of 15 passes to start the second half, his only incompletions a throwaway under pressure and a drop in the end zone. Halliday hit Cracraft on a 7-yard strike to give Washington State a 24-21 lead. Myers had his second touchdown catch, taking a huge hit while hauling in a 14-yard strike on third-and-goal for a 31-24 lead.

Just as quickly, the lead was gone. Kyle Federico’s second field goal, on the first play of the fourth quarter, pulled Rutgers to 31-27 and after a Washington State three-and-out, Nova found John Tsimis for a 29-yard TD and a 34-31 lead with 10:50 remaining.

Halliday went over 500 yards on a 5-yard TD pass to Rickey Galvin with 8:13 left, but he could only be a spectator as Nova and James pushed Rutgers into the lead.

“We were certainly aware the power of this offense and how good they were,” Flood said. “You see it on film and when a game gets into a rhythm like this, offensively you’ve got to be able to answer and I thought we were able to answer.”

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed)

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