Washington State quarterback Cameron Ward (1) throws a pass during...

Washington State quarterback Cameron Ward (1) throws a pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Northern Colorado, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Pullman, Wash. Credit: AP/Young Kwak

PULLMAN, Wash. — Cameron Ward passed for 327 yards and accounted for five first-half touchdowns, and No. 23 Washington State breezed to a 64-21 victory over FCS member Northern Colorado on Saturday.

The Cougars (3-0) were locked in after their emotional win over Wisconsin last week and showed no signs of looking ahead to next week’s Pac-12 Conference opener against No. 16 Oregon State at home.

Ward and the Washington State offense were crisp and explosive from the outset.

The junior quarterback completed his first 12 passes — including a 37-yard touchdown strike to Kyle Williams and a 28-yard TD pass to Lincoln Victor — to give Wazzu a 22-0 lead in the first quarter. Victor had six catches for 119 yards with a pair of TDs.

Ward also ran for an 8-yard touchdown on Washington State’s opening possession. He completed 20 of 26 passes.

“I thought Cam was phenomenal,” Washington State coach Jake Dickert said. “He was sharp. I thought he stayed in the pocket and stayed square.”

Ranked for the first time since 2019, the Cougars racked up 386 yards in the first half and scored touchdowns on all six of their drives to go up 43-0.

Washington State wide receiver Lincoln Victor (5) celebrates his touchdown...

Washington State wide receiver Lincoln Victor (5) celebrates his touchdown with offensive lineman Ma'ake Fifita (66) during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Northern Colorado, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Pullman, Wash. Credit: AP/Young Kwak

Their 43 points in the first half were their most since scoring 55 before the break against Arizona in 2018.

It was the focused effort Dickert wanted to see against a lesser foe sandwiched between big games.

“This was the one time we said, hey, we felt really confident about being the dominant team,” Dickert said. “So coming in here and really performing and not messing around and not turning the ball over, I think it speaks to the team, of the mindset of where we really want to go.”

Northern Colorado (0-3) punted on its first five possessions, including three-and-outs on the first two.

Washington State running back Nakia Watson (25) carries the ball...

Washington State running back Nakia Watson (25) carries the ball during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Northern Colorado, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Pullman, Wash. Credit: AP/Young Kwak

Jamarii Robinson’s juggling 18-yard touchdown catch gave the Bears their first points 12 seconds before halftime.

Northern Colorado quarterback Jacob Sirmon was 16 of 24 for 167 yards and two touchdowns returning to his home state. Sirmon also threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to Darius Stewart in the fourth quarter.

“I just think they were better in every way,” first-year Northern Colorado coach Ed Lamb said. “I think their coaches know their personnel better than we know ours. Confidence is riding high right now in Pullman. It’s riding low in Greeley. We’re just at two completely different spots as a football program.”

KEEPING THE PRESSURE

After a career-best two-sack game against Wisconsin, Washington State edge rusher Ron Stone Jr. added a sack and tackle for loss in the first half against overmatched Northern Colorado. Fellow edge rusher Brennan Jackson also racked up a sack after recovering two fumbles last week on sacks from Stone Jr.

FLAWLESS STARTS

Washington State backup QB John Mateer did his best to match Ward’s flawless start. Mateer started the second half and completed his first six passes with TD tosses on the first two drives of the third quarter. Mateer was 7 of 8 for a career-high 138 yards before third-string QB Emmett Brown played the fourth.

THE TAKEAWAY

The only slight downside for Wazzu was struggling early in the run game against a team picked by coaches and media to finish 10th in the Big Sky Conference.

Walk-on Dylan Paine led WSU with 81 yards rushing and scored his first career touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Starter Nakia Watson had 41 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. Dickert said Watson should be fine after landing awkwardly after a run and exiting the game.

UP NEXT

Northern Colorado: Visits Idaho State next Saturday.

Washington State: Hosts Oregon State next Saturday in a meeting of the only two schools remaining in the Pac-12 beyond the 2023-24 athletic year.

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