PULLMAN – Both offenses were marvelous on Saturday and the Cougars saw a passing performance by quarterback Connor Halliday that surpassed every one that preceded it at the FBS level.
Washington State made superlative plays and that should have been enough to win the game, but it was the ordinary plays that were the Cougars undoing as they lost the highest scoring game of the Mike Leach era to California by the slimmest of margins, 60-59.
With 15 seconds left in the game the Cougars attempted a 19-yard field goal, no more difficult than the eight extra points kicker Quentin Breshears had already made that night.
But the kick was wide to the right – the snap looked low – and a thrilling game ended in a dud for WSU.
“Coach Leach preaches routine plays, make routine plays and we didn’t make a routine play,” receiver River Cracraft said. “That’s what happened.”
“I mean, it’s an 18-yard field goal,” Halliday said after the game.
The Cougars likely had time to take one more shot at the end zone but Halliday called WSU’s final timeout on third down from Cal’s two-yard line. Leach said afterwards that in hindsight he would like one more shot at the end zone, but said that with the clock running in the confusion and delicacy of the moment he understands why the timeout was called.
Halliday threw for 734 yards in the game, breaking David Klingler’s record of 716 for most passing yards in a game, a record that has stood since Dec. 2, 1990. He entered the fourth quarter with 625 thanks to a breakneck third quarter that saw each team score 28 points.
And until 15 seconds were left that would have been a reason to celebrate.
“It really doesn’t mean too much,” Halliday said. “It’ll be fun to look back on it when I’m 30 years old.”
California stuck with short passes early and it paid off when Trevor Davis took a screen pass on the left side, made defenders miss with two juke moves while dancing to the right side and went 27 yards for a touchdown.
When Halliday found Isiah Myers from 16-yards out to put the Cougars up 17-7 less than a minute into the second quarter was his twelfth completion in just 16 attempts.
California trailed at the half, 24-13 and WSU’s defense got stops on their first three series. After that point, however, the defense would only get one more stop in the game.
“They played well the first half,” Leach said. “They threw some double-move stuff at us the second half and yeah, I felt like our tempo starting the third quarter wasn’t as good as it might be. Then the whole thing got wild on both ends.”
It sure did. California scored the first two touchdowns of the second half on six total plays, taking less than 1:30 to do it.
“Cal’s a very explosive team and they did a few things and I think we just need to stay within ourselves and make routine plays,” Leach said.
Halliday and the offense managed to match the Golden Bears explosive plays with a couple quick touchdown drives of their own and the special teams made a game-changing play, then gave up two backbreaking ones.
After the Cougars retook the lead Leach kept it in the hands of his offense, surprising Cal with a kicker recovered onside kick, leading to another WSU touchdown.
Keeping the ball away from Cal’s kickoff returner Trevor Davis was a shrewd move, he returned WSU’s next two kickoffs for touchdowns – 100 yards and 98 yards.
“It’s not demoralizing but it’s kind of like this is crazy,” Halliday said of the returns. “You can only control what you can control. The only thing I can control is having the 10 guys around me on offense nice and confident, calm and ready to make a play, and I think I did an alright job of that tonight.
“There was a lot of slack in the whole rope where we lost the game,” Leach said. “Offense, defense, special teams together lost it. We can’t let them return two kicks for touchdowns. Defensively we need to be able to stop them in the second half like we did the first half and offensively, if we score that last touchdown we’re not even having this conversation.”
Halliday’s record-setting day naturally led to productive days for his receivers. Three different Cougars finished with 100 receiving yards led by Vince Mayle, who had 263 receiving yards and a touchdown, and River Cracraft, who finished with 172 and three touchdowns.
A fourth receiver, Isiah Myers, had 96 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
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