WSU-Idaho game battle of regional stars

PULLMAN — As Washington State readied for its Sept. 7 game against USC, quarterback Connor Halliday was monitoring the preparations of another school, too.

Ferris High School opened its season against Central Valley on Sept. 6, and coach Jim Sharkey’s cellphone lit up frequently with text messages from Halliday, the fourth-year WSU junior and former Saxon.

“We talked a lot during the week before that first game against CV — memories we have, asking if we’re ready to go,” Sharkey said. “It’s a lot of fun to know it’s the same, grounded kid who texts me back and stays in touch.”

It will be even more fun, then, for the greater Spokane football community to watch WSU’s game Saturday against Idaho, a matchup that pits Halliday against former star Coeur d’Alene QB Chad Chalich.

“Our population base is not as big as some areas,” said Coeur d’Alene coach Shawn Amos, “but statistics prove that per player, we produce a lot of good football players.”

That’s why it’s not all that surprising to Sharkey or Amos that two quarterbacks from high schools 40 minutes apart will face each other in a Division I football game. But it’s a historical rarity, and adds even more regional flavor to an old rivalry that has lost its shine recently.

“It’s a great honor, great experience for me because growing up I’ve watched that rivalry really explode,” Chalich said earlier this week. “But it’s kind of died off these last couple years. But we get a great honor to go play them again.”

Halliday and Chalich haven’t met, but each player is aware of the other. Halliday’s father, Duane, helped win an Idaho state championship at Coeur d’Alene in 1985 before playing collegiately at Boise State, so Connor spends enough time around CdA to at least know who Chalich is.

And the two quarterbacks have at least one thing in common: Each made his college choice based upon which school wanted him the most. Halliday said he didn’t grow up on WSU football — “my mom went to UW and my dad went to Boise State” — but went with WSU because, as Sharkey said, “he didn’t want to be somebody’s second choice, and he was WSU’s first choice.”

Likewise with Chalich. He heard from a few different schools, Amos said, but none with more fervor than the Vandals.

“Idaho was the first one to offer him, and they were the most consistent in recruiting him,” Amos said. “Kids want to go where they feel like they’re wanted, and I would definitely say Idaho is a program that really showed they wanted to be part of it.”

Things changed for each player after their decisions. Paul Wulff and his staff were fired at the end of Halliday’s redshirt freshman season. Robb Akey was dismissed in the middle of Chalich’s first year at Idaho.

Each adapted well enough. Halliday has struggled with turnovers but now runs Mike Leach’s offense as WSU’s undisputed starter. Chalich, through three games, has completed 65.9 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions in coach Paul Petrino’s up-tempo scheme, though he’s fumbled here and there.

One doesn’t need to look far to find other local ties on these rosters. Directly in front of Halliday is Elliott Bosch, WSU’s fifth-year senior center who graduated from Ferris a year ahead of his quarterback.

Bosch was a standout defensive end in high school and had a scholarship offer from Central Washington, but chose instead to walk on at WSU as a tight end. Sharkey knew if he put on enough weight, his intelligence would make him a good fit to play center, and so it is that Bosch will start his 16th consecutive game at that position on Saturday.

Then there’s Austin Rehkow, a freshman punter and kicker for the Vandals who earned national fame last season for his 67-yard field goal as a senior at Central Valley. And Deon Watson, a second-year freshman receiver from Coeur d’Alene. And WSU lineman Joe Dahl from University High (who plays left guard, next to Bosch), safety Mitchell Peterson (West Valley) and long-snapper Jared Sonneborn (Gonzaga Prep).

The dueling Spokane-area quarterbacks “makes it really unique and should make a lot of fans there, you would think,” said Petrino. “There should be a lot of fans there from Spokane and Coeur d’Alene — one rooting for one side, one rooting for the other.”

Sharkey’s allegiance is obvious, and so is Amos’. But there’s always a shared appreciation for Spokane/CdA guys who make it to a bigger stage.

“It’s a great deal for the area and pretty exciting,” Amos said. “It gives more people reason to be interested in not only this game, but those two programs.”

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