Cougar QB spends a night in Salt Lake Gritty

FOR CONNOR HALLIDAY, it was the best of times – and the worst of times. Facing a 17-point halftime deficit and the prospect of losing to a second consecutive Pac-12 opponent, Washington State’s senior quarterback shook off the pelting rain, a rough start and a pesky Utah defense to tun in a record-setting second-half performance as the Cougs stunned Utah 28-27 on Saturday night in Salt Lake City.

Against the previously unbeaten Utes, Halliday broke a pair of Washington State records and closed in on a third. As the chief engineer in Mike Leach’s “Air Raid” offense, he surpassed Alex Brink’s school record for touchdown passes, with 78, and also broke Brink’s record for career completions (848) with 860.

Halliday was rather nonchalant about the records, simply calling them “exciting.”

“But,” he added, “if it had been a loss, that would have been really difficult.”

That was nearly the case during a shaky first half, though, as Halliday threw two interceptions – the first of which Utah scored on.

Still, Leach said, he was able to redirect.

“Connor didn’t have his best day,” he said. “While you’re struggling on your end, you’ve got to get guys focused and he did a great job with that.”

The Cougars got on the board with 6:54 remaining in the first half as Halliday hit Dom Williams for a 35-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-9.

Halliday heated up after halftime, throwing for 267 of his 417 yards in the second half in his 10th career 400-yard game. With 9,749 career passing yards, he still trails Brink’s record of 10,913.

“I think we settled down a little bit,” Halliday said of the post-halftime shift. “I think we ran the ball really well.”

Leach had a similar sentiment.

“We just really wanted to reset a little bit,” he said, “because if you’re not careful, stuff will unravel.”

After a fumble recovery by Kache Palacio in the third quarter, Halliday began to hit his stride, marching the Cougars downfield with eight steady plays before connecting with Vince Mayle on an 11-yard touchdown pass to narrow the deficit to 21-14.

It was a team effort, though, as the offensive line’s staunch second-half performance gave Halliday the opportunity to hang back and make judicious decisions about where to throw the ball.

Their play caught Leach’s attention.

“I thought the offensive line did a great job,” he said.

With 8:08 left in the game and the Cougars facing fourth-and-14, Halliday connected with Dom Williams on a 20-yard touchdown reception.

And on a drive that started on their own 8-yard line, Halliday connected with Mayle, who sped 81 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with a little over five minutes remaining. Mayle said that there was a clear difference between the first and second halves.

“Honestly, it was just playing hard,” he said. “We didn’t play like we want to be remembered in the first half.”

Halliday added that getting their first conference win of the season sets a good precedent.

“It’s huge because we play so many young guys,” he said. “We need to get a taste of that.”

NOTABLE NOTES
  • With Frankie Luvu taking the field, 22 Cougar players have now made their debuts this season including 16 freshmen, five of which are true freshmen.

  • Gerard Wicks’ 24-yard run was the longest by a Washington State player this season. He also rushed for a season-high 56 yards.

  • With his 15th and 16th career touchdown passes, Dom Williams now is tied for the ninth-most in school history.

  • Vince Mayle had his third career 100-yard game, with 120, and the longest touchdown run – 81 yards – of his career.

  • River Cracraft matched a career high with nine catches for a career-high 126 yards in his second straight 100-yard game.

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