HALLIDAY HAD NO HOLIDAY VS. UTES
EVEN WITH THE SNOW, Connor Halliday’s return to Earth came with a hard landing. After stepping in to snap the Cougars’ five-game winning streak against Arizona State, the redshirt freshman from Spokane was the man of the hour. Make that the man of the week. For seven days, Halliday’s name was used on CF.C’s message boards in conjunction with such words as “rebirth” and “redemption.”
He was voted Pac-12 offensive player of the week and the Manning Award national quarterback of the week. Hopeful fans anticipated another 494-yard, four-touchdown rout of their next opponent.
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.”
A season-low crowd of 16,419 turned out on Senior Day for the final home game of the year. Many students were out of town since WSU is on break all week for Thanksgiving, and weather conditions kept others from attempting Snoqualmie Pass.
Karstetter has now caught a pass in 38 consecutive games. His fourth-quarter catch was the 18th of his career, moving him into a tie for third on WSU’s career receiving touchdown list. He finished with six catches for 111 yards, making Saturday his third 100-yard game of the season and fifth of his career.
Wilson had eight catches to move into ninth on WSU’s top 10 for career catches with 129. His second-quarter touchdown catch was his 10th of the season and 16th of his career, which puts him sixth on WSU’s single-season receiving touchdown list and tied for eighth on the school’s career receiving touchdowns list.
Junior defensive end Adam Coerper made a career-high seven tackles, and freshman linebacker Chester Su’a made a career-high 10 tackles.
Ratliff caught his first career touchdown pass and had a career high 97 receiving yards.
The Cougars missed an opportunity to win consecutive conference games for the first time since 2006 when they beat Oregon and UCLA.
The Cougars’ overall and conference records are identical to where they finished in 2000.
WSU is now are 5-6 against Utah. The Cougars won the last meeting, 38-21, on Sept. 16, 2000, in Salt Lake City.
Entering the game, Utah and WSU both scored the same number of points (273) as each other in 10 previous contests.