Then the snow began to fall and reality set in -- taking with it the Cougars' bowl hopes.
It wasn't so much that Halliday wasn't ready to play. Making the first start of your college career in a snowstorm is no easy task, even for a native of Eastern Washington, where winter means winter.
But the Utes' visit to the Palouse came complete with some hard lessons for Halliday, who struggled with accuracy from the start as the Cougars had solid field position several times in the first half but could not move the ball.
"Connor is a tough kid," said head coach Paul Wulff in a postgame radio interview. "If you're going to play quarterback, you have to be tough."
A LACK OF PROTECTION by the offensive line – and a Utah defense that is in the top four of the conference in all major statistics – resulted in back-to-back interceptions in the first quarter and another early in the second.
"He took more hits than he needed to take," Wulff said. "We didn't protect him as well as we needed." That fact was driven home late Saturday with word that Halliday was at Pullman General with an undisclosed ailment to the midsection.
Not helping matters was that by Saturday, the Cougars were on their third starting right tackle of the season. With junior Dan Spitz sidelined by a right-ankle sprain, redshirt freshman Jake Rodgers took his place. The Spokane native was flagged for at least one penalty.
"I was able to do my job most of the time," Rodgers said in a postgame interview. "I know I made a few mistakes, but I felt overall I played pretty well."
Halliday gained some traction late in the second quarter as he connected on four consecutive passes, the final resulting in a 6-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Marquess Wilson with 33 seconds left before halftime. Wilson, who sat out of practice most of the week with a hip injury, finished the night with eight catches for 83 yards.
"(Connor) hung in there," said senior wide receiver Jared Karstetter after the game. "He kept scrambling. He kept extending plays. He wasn't just throwing the ball away; he was trying to make plays."
A FIELD GOAL by sophomore Andrew Furney and a 47-yard trick play from redshirt freshman wide receiver Kristoff Williams to classmate Bobby Ratliff kept the game within reach for the Cougars, but with a little more than three minutes left, they still trailed 27-17 on a field where the yard lines were no longer visible.
Nine plays and 74 yards later, Halliday's 9-yard pass to Karstetter was good for a touchdown, giving the Cougars a last shot at redemption. WSU was able to hold Utah to a punt on its final drive of regulation, and then mushed through the snow to the Utah 7, aided by a 44-yard completion to Karstetter. But Halliday's last pass, a 6-yarder to Wilson, was called down at the Utes' 1-yard line, and the Cougars had to settle for a field goal.
"From the situation we were in, to get it into overtime was great, but we were all disappointed because we had a shot to win it right at the end there," said Karstetter, who had six catches for 111 yards.
Utah won the overtime toss and gave the Cougars the ball. After an incompletion, Halliday was called for grounding and WSU was suddenly on the losing end of third-and-25 at the Utes' 40.
WITH NO OTHER CHOICE and the Cougars out of field-goal range, Halliday threw the ball – and defensive back Mo Lee picked it off.
Three plays later, the Utes were celebrating in the snow.
Halliday completed 21 of 48 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns. Despite running for just 62 yards – and giving up 86 to Utah running back John White – the Cougars topped Utah 399-358 in total yardage.
"He made some mistakes," offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy said of Halliday in a postgame interview. "He had a chance to throw one away, didn't, tried to make something happen and, typically, you have to have that happen to you a time or two before you learn."