SEATTLE – For Austin Apodaca, it was the best of times, and the worst of times. The redshirt freshman quarterback was entering a game where his team was trailing 24-3 and starter Connor Halliday had just limped off the field. Still, for Apodaca, Saturday night's 55-17 loss against No. 5 Stanford marked the first significant playing time of his collegiate career.
And while the effort resulted in a pair of late touchdowns, his big debut at CenturyLink Field started with a bang – in all the wrong ways.
Just two plays into his first drive and he was on the ground, courtesy of linebacker Kevin Anderson.
Apodaca left the game while the Cougars punted, setting up yet another Stanford touchdown to make the score 31-3 with a little more than six minutes left in the third quarter.
His return in the next series was met with another blow, this one from linebacker Ben Gardner, and three plays later he threw a pick six to Trent Murphy – the same linebacker who took Halliday down – who returned it 30 yards for a touchdown.
“I tried to make too much happen,” he said in a postgame interview. “I wasn’t going through my reads like I do every day in practice. I was skimping on things, trying to make too much happen, when I should have been going 1-2-3-4 through my reads and taking what they give me.
“I was trying to put some points on the board and probably got a little too excited.”
STILL, APODACA SHRUGGED it off with the aplomb of a player with more experience than a brief stint against Southern Utah, where he completed 3 of 7 passes for 27 yards. Against the Cardinal, he completed 15 of 29 passes for 138 yards.
“It’s college football,” he said. “Those guys are physical on the other side of the ball, so I just tried to get up … shake it off and go on to the next play.”
Coach Mike Leach praised Apodaca for doing just that.
“I was proud of the way he settled in,” he said. “He played pretty good at the end.”
On his next effort, Apodaca put together a 7-play, 71-yard drive that culminated in connecting with sophomore Gabe Marks for a 47-yard touchdown – the first of his career.
“It was cool,” he said simply, adding that he thanked his teammate afterward for suggesting the play. “It was a good feeling, but I had to (focus) on the next play.”
The score saved the Cougars from their second game of the season without an offensive touchdown.
Marks said that the players reacted accordingly when Apodaca took over for Halliday.
“He was ready to go,” he said. “There wasn’t any flinching when his number got called; he just went in there and picked up where Connor left off, and kept going.”
Lightning struck a second time with just 27 seconds left as Apodaca hit junior Rickey Galvin for an 8-yard touchdown pass.
OVERALL, APODACA SAID the Cougars had no one to blame but themselves for their mistakes.
“Nothing they do should dictate what we do,” he said. “We have confidence we can move the ball on anyone; we just have to have a better mindset coming into a game like this.
“We’re going to have some adversity, no matter what. That’s a given in football. But I think how we react and how we respond says a lot about our team, and in those situations, we’ve just got to play the next play.”
Halliday’s 24 completions ups his career total to 358, the ninth most in school history.
Senior Andrew Furney’s 36th career field goal gives him the fourth most in school history.
Freshman John Thompson made his collegiate debut and recorded his first career reception.
Senior Deone Bucannon picked off his 12th career pass, tying him for sixth most in school history. Bucannon also made nine tackles to push his career total to 314, the ninth most in school history
Stanford sophomore Michael Rector, a former standout at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, said it was meaningful to see familiar faces in the stands.
“It was really cool and special to celebrate with the guys, and it was fun especially in front of the hometown,” the wide receiver said.