SPOKANE — Early in Washington State’s spring game Saturday, it seemed that coach Mike Leach’s self-assigned task of creating two equal teams would prove impossible. After all, starting quarterback Connor Halliday couldn’t play for both sides.
But Halliday’s Crimson team had to hold on for a 23-19 victory in front of 6,233 fans at Joe Albi Stadium after his backups overcame some early jitters to rally the Gray team.
It helped that Halliday and the Crimson offense sat the final period, which had a running clock, after playing during the first two 15-minute quarters.
“It was competitive. At times we were not as congruent as I would like because we have guys playing next to people they don’t play next to,” Leach said. “We tried to split the teams as equal as we could in our preferred way. We know it’s not going to be perfect.”
Halliday looked every bit the starter, completing 25 of 41 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns while leading the Crimson to a field goal on his first drive, which was set up by a 42-yard pass to River Cracraft.
He hit Drew Loftus for a 2-yard touchdown pass on his second drive to give the Crimson an early 10-0 advantage.
But Halliday wasn’t immune from the turnovers that plagued both offenses throughout the game, twice getting intercepted by cornerback Daquawn Brown.
“I thought I played all right, it was a little frustrating. The (second interception) I just threw without seeing (Cracraft),” Halliday said. “I threw to the spot he’s always at on the post outside — I thought he was going to go inside. But other than that we played well. We got better today and that’s what I like the most.”
The secondary starts only one upperclassman — junior safety Taylor Taliulu — joining the offensive line as the only position groups on the team without any seniors. Those two units entered the spring as the team’s biggest question marks, but on Saturday there was little to cause concern.
The offensive lines did allow a combined seven sacks but they came over the course of 107 drop-backs by the three quarterbacks.
“I thought (the secondary) did pretty good, but I thought our offensive line did pretty good too,” Leach said. “We had those guys split up and that’s the position that puts the most pressure on, and I really thought they played pretty well.”
Backup quarterback Tyler Bruggman played the first quarter for the Gray and threw interceptions on all three of his first-half drives. Cornerback Tracy Clark snagged a poorly-placed throw over the middle to end the first drive just one play after fellow corner Marcellus Pippins dropped an apparent interception.
Linebacker Jeremiah Allison also corralled a Bruggman pass over the middle, needing only one hand to reel it in. On the third drive, it was safety Beau Glover who dug out a bobbled pass.
Bruggman finished the day 12-for-28 for 154 yards. Luke Falk took over as the Gray’s quarterback in the second quarter and the two each saw work in the second half while Halliday sat.
Falk completed 20 of 31 passes for 213 yards and found Rickey Galvin for a score from a yard out.
“Your first spring game is always tough. You want to make many things happen and you want come out here and play well,” Halliday said. “Those guys have had a heck of a spring ball for their first spring under their belt and I thought they played well today.”
Halliday’s preferred target on the day was Loftus, who he found behind the defense for a 22-yard touchdown that would be the game’s winning score. The former Hawaii transfer sat out last season but was one of the team’s consistent playmakers this spring and caught six passes for 78 yards along with the two scores on Saturday.
One of WSU’s emerging stars this spring has been receiver Vince Mayle. But the 6-foot-3, 220 pound receiver struggled to connect with Halliday early, dropping an early pass and mistiming other passes. Still, the senior finished with six catches and led the Crimson with 92 receiving yards.
“It was my first spring game. I was kind of nervous — I’ve never been to a spring game before,” said Mayle, who transferred to WSU from junior college prior to last season. “So I was just nervous trying to make the big plays and not making my routine plays. Later I calmed down and we got back on a roll.”