Freshman leads WSU to upset
Halliday passes for nearly 500 yards
Seattle Times colleges reporter
PULLMAN — Though you've had reason to wonder, there's still a pulse in the Palouse. It beat strongly and unmistakably here at 10:50 p.m. Saturday night, when fans raced onto the field and players in crimson jerseys slapped each other on the back and exulted in the cold air of early winter.
A 12-point underdog, Washington State ambushed Arizona State 37-27 at Martin Stadium for the benefit of a Dads Weekend crowd and anybody who might have thought the Cougars had pitched it in.
It was the Cougars' first victory over a good team in, well, forever. They had to have it to retain any hope of becoming bowl-eligible, but almost more than that, they needed it to show there's still reason for hope, that maybe there's a future under Paul Wulff.
It seemed almost a move born of desperation, when, after two futile offensive series under Marshall Lobbestael, the Cougars (2-6, 2-5 Pac-12) turned to Connor Halliday, a redshirt freshman from Ferris High of Spokane. In August, Halliday was third string, but moved up after the star-crossed, injury-pocked season of Jeff Tuel.
It was Halliday who would have to keep the bowl thing alive, who would have to breathe life into a team that had lost the past four weeks by 30, 23, 15 and 23 points.
Boy, the kid was daunted by the circumstance.
All he did was step up and fire an 85-yard bomb to Marquess Wilson for the Cougars' first touchdown. And by the time the night's back-and-forth proceedings were done, Halliday had completed 27 passes in 36 attempts for 494 yards.
What it was, was the most yards ever thrown by a WSU quarterback in a victory. Alex Brink threw for 531 in 2005, but it came in a defeat against Oregon State.
Halliday, 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, was ridiculously good. The Sun Devils (6-4, 4-3) blitzed him mercilessly and he recognized it, he felt it, he dodged it, he gunned the ball when they were closing on him. They sacked him only once.
Halliday seemed to engage receivers. As resourceful and gutty as Lobbestael was during this Tuel-less season, the wideouts somehow seemed less connected recently.
"I'm not going to anoint him a Luck (Andrew) yet," Wulff said with a grin, "but he did a lot of great things. It looked comfortable out there, didn't it?"
There were five lead changes on an evening that began with heavy snow showers and two plows on the Martin Stadium turf. But the precipitation cleared most of the night.
It was cold, and it was heavenly for the Cougars.
"You would not believe how excited they were to be back at Martin Stadium," said defensive coordinator Chris Ball. "We were here once (Oct. 15 against Stanford) in 62 days. That's tough on a young football team."
So were some awful problems in the kicking game. The Cougars were down 7-0 only 13 seconds into the game on Jamal Miles' 95-yard kickoff return, and they spent the rest of the night dribbling kickoffs short and forfeiting field position, making it easier for ASU quarterback Brock Osweiler.
But the Cougars were hugely resilient. Down 27-23 early in the fourth quarter, they got two consecutive big stops from defensive tackle Brandon Rankin inside the WSU 10 when ASU could have gone up by 11.
Time and again, Halliday rallied the Cougars with big-time, third-down throws. After throwing for three touchdowns to Wilson — who had eight catches for 223 yards — Halliday fired one for 19 yards to a diving Isiah Barton, giving the Cougars the lead for good with 8:55 left.
But the drive that sent the margin to double-digits was something unreal. On third-and-nine, he threw along the sidelines to Wilson for 25 yards. A minute later, he rifled a 29-yard pass to a tumbling Wilson, who survived a hard hit at the ASU 1.
Ironically, it was Arizona State that had made a final pitch to Halliday to try to get him to turn around his early commitment to WSU.
"I went down there in June (of 2009) in my recruiting process," said Halliday. "I threw for Coach Erickson and they told me they had another guy they wanted to offer."
That guy de-committed, and the Sun Devils made another run at Halliday.
"I'm not going to go anywhere where I'm not their first option," he said. "It goes to show you — maybe Mr. Erickson made a mistake."
Later, Wulff caressed a game ball, and was asked if it was going to Halliday.
"Nope, Steve Gleason," said Wulff, referring to the ALS-stricken former Cougar linebacker who addressed the team hours before kickoff. "It's about as emotional a situation as I've ever been involved in. There wasn't a dry eye in our football building."
But apparently, there were still some believers there.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-12.
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