Burning question: What was Leach thinking?

ALL NIGHT LONG, Connor Halliday was a steady force as he methodically passed his way to a Football Subdivision Bowl record. So it begs the question of what Mike Leach was thinking when he elected to attempt a field goal on third-and-goal with 19 seconds left and his team trailing by one. After all, the special-teams unit welcomed the Golden Bears back for the second half by handing them 14 points.

While Cougar Nation must accept that the Furney era is over – those hazy days on the Palouse when games started before 7:30 p.m. and 50-yard kicks sailed effortlessly through the uprights – it isn’t too much to ask for the coaching staff to not put the game in the hands of a kicking unit that has gone 5 of 9 so far this season on field goals.

But in a game in which Halliday passed for 734 yards and six touchdowns, it all came down to a field goal attempt with a bad snap and hold that started it closer to the right hash mark and sailed wide right.

Game over.

Halliday himself expressed regret over the final play in a postgame radio interview.

“As a quarterback, you always want things in your hands,” he said. “I wish we would have taken one more shot in the end zone.”

REALISTICALLY, THOUGH, THE special teams got the ball rolling in the wrong direction long before the final score of 60-59.

With Washington State leading 38-34 and just under eight minutes left in the third quarter, Hawaii transfer Trevor Davis returned the kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.

The Cougars quickly responded with a seven-play, 71-yard drive that culminated in a 9-yard touchdown pass from Halliday to Isiah Myers to extend their lead to 45-34.

Out of the woods?

Try again.

On the ensuing kickoff, Davis sped right past the Cougars’ kickoff coverage team again, this time for a 98-yard touchdown run.

Granted, the special teams also helped the Cougars put some points on the board. On the drive prior to Davis’ first touchdown, Erik Powell recovered his own onside kick at the WSU 45-yard line to set up Gerard Wicks’ 1-yard touchdown run.

And when California went ahead on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Jared Goff to Bryce Treggs with 8:34 left in the game, Xavier Cooper blocked the extra point. Making it would have given the Bears a two-score lead.

ON THE FINAL DRIVE of the night, Halliday led – and at times limped – the way down to the Bears’ 1-yard line, but it was the kicking unit called upon to catapult the Cougars atop the Pac-12 North standings with a win against a team that it outgained, outpassed and basically outplayed.

Was Leach worried that the Bears would sack Halliday for a second time? Did he fear a run play in his pass-prone offense would be too risky? Did he feel that with no timeouts left, he had no other choice? All we know is that it wasn’t enough.

But for crimson faithful, enough is enough. What should have been a celebration of a wild win made even sweeter by the accomplishment of a courageous and sturdy quarterback is overshadowed by the stinging pain of yet another loss.

Enough.

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