Freshman shakes off rust in first QB appearance
PULLMAN – Mike Leach said earlier this week that he wanted to get second-year freshman quarterback Austin Apodaca into a game “as soon as possible,” with the caveat that his collegiate debut under center wouldn’t come until Washington State held a comfortable lead over an opponent.
He didn’t have to wait long. After Connor Halliday’s fifth touchdown pass put the Cougars ahead of Southern Utah 48-10 in Saturday’s fourth quarter, Leach told Apodaca to get ready.
“I started warming up,” Apodaca said, “and told the offense, ‘let’s go down and try to get a score and try to keep moving the ball.’”
Well, that didn’t quite happen. Apodaca fired incomplete on his first two passes before the Cougars punted. And he wound up completing just 3 of 7 through the air for 27 yards, the bright spot a 17-yard connection to freshman receiver River Cracraft.
Apodaca was ready. He just wasn’t calm.
“We need to get him a few reps. I don’t think he ever entirely settled down,” Leach said. “He needs to just settle down and go out there and play like he does in practice. He plays real good in practice. Don’t think he ever really shook the nerves.”
Apodaca didn’t think he was all that nervous. More excited, he said, to actually run the offense in a real game. He hadn’t done that since his senior year of high school in Longmont, Colo., and his only game action at WSU has been as the team’s place-holder for PATs and field goals.
“I think I just had to get the cobwebs out a little,” he said. “On the second and third drives, I kind of got my confidence up a little bit and everything. The first drive it was hard to think. I hadn’t played in a football game since December 2011, and it’s real life and people are trying to hit you and kill you and everything.”
Horton ties record
Damante Horton continues to find himself in the right place at the right time. And as a result, he now finds himself in the WSU record book. For the second consecutive week, Horton intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown, this time taking Aaron Cantu’s errant toss 72 yards to give the Cougars a 28-10 lead late in the first half. He did something similar last week against USC, returning a pick 70 yards for WSU’s only touchdown in the first half of its 10-7 victory. With three career interceptions returned for touchdowns, Horton is tied with Jason David for the most such plays in school history.
Halliday moving up
Leach will be more satisfied with the fact that Halliday completed 78 percent of his passes Saturday than he will be about his quarterback’s ascension up the school’s all-time touchdown list. But the two went hand in hand on this day. Halliday threw five touchdown passes for the second time in his career, and vaulted past Marshall Lobbestael, Bob Newman and Mark Rypien for eighth-most in school history with 30. “Receivers came out and ran real good routes,” Halliday said. “It was easy to get them the ball at the start of the game. Everybody was wide open.”
Palacio in at buck
With usual starter Destiny Vaeao sidelined for undisclosed reasons – he rode an exercise bike during Thursday’s practice, but suited up Saturday – sophomore Kache Palacio started and played most of the game at buck linebacker. He finished with six tackles, including a sack, and would have had an interception if not for a defensive holding penalty against teammate Deone Bucannon. “When Destiny went down, I just came and played my role,” Palacio said. “I’m fired up all the time. When my name is called, I just go out there and play.”
Freshmen get PT
With the Cougars leading by 38 points in the fourth quarter, freshman Isaac Dotson made his collegiate debut at safety. Later, freshman offensive lineman Riley Sorenson subbed in at right guard. That brings the total of true freshmen who have played this season to four. Cracraft and cornerback Daquawn Brown have played in every game. Redshirt freshman Eduardo Middleton and redshirt junior Brent Anderson also made their debuts.