PULLMAN – Mike Leach’s nearly five years coaching the Washington State football team have been marked by passing records, points scored and wild finishes. Also, for some reason, games that kick off at night.
Thus, no game has better represented the essential essence of Leach’s tenure then California’s 60-59 victory in Pullman in 2014. The Golden Bears return to Martin Stadium in a game that will again feature the Pac-12’s top two passing offenses, and will once again kick off at 7:30.
If the sequel is anything like the original, bring some heart medicine. Also, get food, drinks and go to the bathroom before the game starts, because you are likely to miss a score if you so much as blink.
“It was a wild game,” Leach said. “It was back-and-forth the whole time and it never really stopped.”
Connor Halliday’s superb passing day staked the Cougars to an early 17-7 lead when he found Isiah Myers for a 16-yard score less than a minute into the second quarter. WSU led 24-13 at the half, thanks to defensive stops on Cal’s first three offensive series.
But the WSU defense got just one more stop the rest of the game. The teams combined for 56 points in the third quarter, which saw consecutive WSU scores answered by kickoffs returned for touchdowns by Cal’s Trevor Davis.
Halliday kept the heat on the Bears and threw for 734 yards, which was the FBS record until this year. He broke David Klingler’s record of 716 yards, which had stood since 1990. Vince Mayle had 263 receiving yards, while River Cracraft had 172 yards and three touchdowns.
And with 15 seconds left in the game, all the Cougars needed was a 19-yard field goal to take the lead, probably for good. WSU probably could have taken another shot at the end zone, but Halliday used the final timeout from WSU’s two-yard line on third down.
There was some confusion, as the Cougars were sure they had scored on the previous play. But the field goal would have almost certainly given the Cougars the win regardless. It was no longer than the eight extra points Quentin Breshears had already made that night, yet he missed it, and Cal won the high-scoring game by the slimmest of margins.
“We constantly preach you’ve got to play until the clock reads 0:00,” running backs coach Jim Mastro said. “That night we didn’t.”
2012 Apple Cup
The Cougars had only won two games all season entering the 2012 Apple Cup. Trailing rival Washington 28-10, it looked for all the world like they were headed toward their ninth-straight loss and would finish Leach’s inaugural season without a Pac-12 win.
But Carl Winston got the Cougars back in the game with a pair of touchdown runs, the second of which came after quarterback Jeff Tuel narrowly avoided a sack and hit Isiah Myers with a 29-yard pass.
The UW defense committed penalty after penalty, and the Cougars kept closing the gap. WSU kicker Andrew Furney made his 45-yard field goal to tie the game, and UW kicker Travis Coons missed his to win it, sending the rivalry game to overtime.
Then the WSU defense came up with one of the great plays in Apple Cup history, pressuring UW quarterback Keith Price into attempting to throw the ball out of a sack, instead throwing it to defensive lineman Toni Pole, who nearly raced all the way down the field and ended the game right there.
Pole was tackled, but the WSU offense gave Furney a 27-yard chip shot and he did not miss, giving Leach his first Pac-12 win.
2013 New Mexico Bowl
Washington State qualified for its first bowl game since 2003 in Leach’s second season, and the Cougars were rewarded with a trip to the New Mexico Bowl to face Colorado State.
The game got off to a shaky start for WSU when Connor Halliday’s pass was intercepted on the second play of the game. But cornerback Nolan Washington got the ball right back for the Cougars on the ensuing play by forcing Rashard Higgins to fumble it. Halliday threw a touchdown pass to River Cracraft on the subsequent drive, and the Cougars were in control.
The Cougars began the fourth quarter with an 80-yard drive that made the score 45-30. Though the Rams scored two drives later to make the score 45-37, the Cougars ran the ball twice to start their next drive, forcing CSU to burn two timeouts, and then picked up a first down.
On the next play Halliday snapped the ball with plenty of time left on the clock, and faked a handoff before running himself. He appeared to fumble on the play, but replay showed he was down. On the very next play, however, CSU’s Shaquil Barrett stripped the ball from WSU running back Jeremiah Laufasa and recovered it.
The Rams scored and tied the game by running a Statue of Liberty play on the two-point conversion. The game did not even go to overtime, since Teondray Caldwell fumbled the ensuing kickoff, setting up CSU for the game-winning 41-yard field goal.
2014 at Utah
The heavy rain and swirling winds in Salt Lake City were not exactly conducive to passing the ball, but Connor Halliday threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns as the Cougars came back from a three-touchdown deficit to beat Utah, 28-27.
Utah’s Travis Wilson completed just 18-of-38 passes and had his final one tipped away by Charleston White to preserve the WSU win over the previously unbeaten Utes.
“It was the perfect storm,” Mastro said. “Everything that could go wrong, went wrong and then our kids responded. You don’t see that much from a team that’s trying to find it’s identity at the time.”
Halliday threw touchdown passes on fourth-and-nine and fourth-and-14 to create the comeback for the Cougars. He began in the game in less stellar fashion, throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown on WSU’s first offensive drive.
WSU’s next drive ended with the Cougars punting to Kaelin Clay, who returned it 58-yards for a touchdown. Next time Utah had the ball, running back Devontae Booker rumbled 76 yards for a touchdown to make it 21-0.
WSU went ahead thanks to a drive started on its own eight-yard line when Halliday threw a pass over the middle to Vince Mayle, who raced 81 yards for the winning touchdown.
2015 at Oregon
No team has won more Pac-12 games since the start of 2015 than WSU, and the Cougars have created an identity as a team that rises to the challenge in the fourth quarter.
WSU’s double-overtime win at Oregon in 2015 was not their first comeback win under Leach, but it may have been when that identity was forged.
“Me and Luke Falk were talking about what the turnaround game was, and he said the same thing,” Mastro said. “That’s where it started. If you look at Leach, he finds ways to win games, and that’s the culture he builds in the program. He doesn’t care what the score is, he believes we’re going to come back and win it.”
Getting to overtime against the Ducks was hard enough, with the Cougars needing to go 70 yards in just under two minutes, trailing 31-24. But Falk threw and eight-yard touchdown pass Dom Williams with one second to spare.
The game-winning toss was even wilder. After each team scored once, Falk threw a pass to River Cracraft, who was tackled at the goal line, but as he fell he flipped the ball to Robert Lewis, who took it into the end zone.
Shalom Luani ended the game with an interception, giving WSU the win over its storied northwest rival.
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