Halliday breathes life into WSU's; air-raid attack

WSU 35, UNLV 27: Backup throws 4 TDs in fill-in role for injured starter Tuel

Contributing writerSeptember 15, 2012 

LAS VEGAS – In a city where gambling is a way of life, Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday looked right at home Friday night.

Halliday treated a national television audience and more than 5,000 WSU fans to his high-risk, high-reward style of play, passing for 378 yards and four touchdowns in a wild, 35-27 triumph over UNLV.

Halliday, a redshirt sophomore out of Spokane’s Ferris High School, made his second college start due to the knee injury suffered by senior Jeff Tuel in last Saturday’s win over Eastern Washington.

Coach Mike Leach didn’t say whether he’s decided on his starting quarterback for next week in the Cougars’ (2-1) Pacific-12 Conference opener against visiting Colorado (0-2).

“Connor played really well,” Leach said.

“Both our quarterbacks are amazing,” offensive tackle Gunnar Eklund said after his first start.

Halliday, who loves to gamble with his strong right arm, completed three long passes for 47 or more yards – two for touchdowns – in the first 25 minutes at Sam Boyd Stadium. In addition, he may have lost a 75-yard touchdown pass late in the first quarter when Marquess Wilson dropped a perfectly thrown pass after getting behind the defense at midfield.

“He was amazing back there,” Wilson said. “Who wouldn’t like a quarterback that’s launching the ball?”

Added Halliday: “Leach puts a lot on the quarterback’s shoulders to call your own play at the line of scrimmage. I think I got settled in well there and made some great decisions for the rest of the game after I made that first (interception).”

Halliday threw interceptions in the first and fourth quarters. Wilson dropped a ball in the end zone in the fourth quarter, but he made amends by catching his first two touchdown passes of the year.

Wilson’s second TD, an 81-yard bomb he caught in stride at midfield, gave WSU a 28-10 lead (after the extra point) with 5 minutes, 27 seconds left in the second quarter.

The Rebels answered on the next play from scrimmage with a 75-yard touchdown bomb of their own. A field goal with no time on the clock narrowed WSU’s halftime lead to 28-20.

Halliday’s pinpoint passing keyed a 13-play, 88-yard drive that Leon Brooks capped with a 3-yard run in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. It was the first college touchdown for Brooks, a redshirt junior running back who came to WSU as a walk-on.

The Rebels gambled and lost on fourth down two times in WSU territory in the final 10 minutes but scored with 1:44 left. WSU’s Andrei Lintz recovered the onside kick, and after the Cougars were stopped at midfield on a fourth-down run with 40 seconds to go, the Rebels (who had no timeouts left) stalled at midfield.

“We can’t put the game away,” safety Casey Locker said. “That’s something we’ve got to figure out here real quick.”

The entertaining contest was played before a crowd of 17,015 that was fairly evenly divided between fans of the two teams.

WSU edged the Rebels (0-3) 461-460 in total yards. UNLV redshirt freshman quarterback Nick Sherry tied a school record by completing 33 of his 49 passes. He had 351 passing yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

Halliday was 26-for-45 passing, with four TDs. He scrambled well when pressured, but WSU’s offensive line did its best job of pass blocking this season after making more personnel changes.

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