PULLMAN, Wash. — After Washington State lost its first two games of the season, Saturday’s contest against Portland State of the FCS suddenly loomed very large.
Connor Halliday, the nation’s leading passer, threw for 544 yards and six touchdowns as Washington State beat Portland State 59-21.
“It was important to get a win,” Halliday said. “We really needed to get a win.”
“We needed the W,” added receiver River Cracraft.
No. 2 Oregon will be coming to Pullman next weekend, but the Cougars took time Saturday to savor the victory over the overmatched Vikings of the Big Sky Conference.
“There were a lot of good things,” WSU coach Mike Leach said of his team’s performance.
That includes a team record 706 yards of total offense, including a Pac-12 record 630 team passing yards. The Cougars also had success running the ball, and throwing short passes to the running backs. The ground game was almost non-existent in the losses to Rutgers and Nevada that opened the season.
“I thought we did a better job of distributing the ball to (running backs),” Leach said.
The Cougars also limited Portland State to 362 yards of offense.
“The best part was our team playing together, offense, defense and special teams, for a significant period,” Leach said.
Isiah Myers caught 11 passes for 227 yards and three touchdowns for Washington State (1-2).
Kieran McDonagh led Portland State (1-2) with 269 passing yards and a touchdown. Alex Toureen caught seven passes for 100 yards.
“We just had too many opportunities early that we let slip through our fingers,” Portland State coach Nigel Burton said. “Great teams find ways to take advantage of those opportunities that their opponent gives them.”
Halliday, a senior, completed 41 of 62 passes and was intercepted twice. Freshman Luke Falk came in late and threw for 86 more yards, including an 84-yard touchdown pass to Dom Williams. Williams caught four passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns for the Cougars.
The seven touchdown passes tied a WSU team record.
Halliday came into the game leading the nation with 921 passing yards.
Washington State has never lost to an FCS opponent and the Cougars scored on three straight possessions, starting late in the first quarter, to take control.
Washington State’s Gerard Wicks powered over from the 1-yard line, completing an 80-yard drive in 14 plays. The drive featured nine catches or rushes by the WSU running backs, which coach Mike Leach said this week was essential for his Air Raid offense to have success.
Portland State drove to the WSU 10 on its next possession. But running back Shaq Richard fumbled and Washington State’s Destiny Vaeao recovered on the 7 to kill the drive.
Halliday connected with Myers on a 67-yard pass play. Five plays later Halliday fired a 15-yard touchdown pass to Cracraft in the end zone and Washington State led 14-0 early in the second quarter.
Portland State was forced to punt on its next possession, and Rickey Galvin returned the ball 44 yards to the PSU 17. Halliday on the first play connected with Williams, who ran into the end zone for a 21-0 WSU lead.
Portland State got the ball on downs at Washington State’s 44, but McDonagh was intercepted in the end zone by Charleston White to end the threat. Washington State marched 80 yards in six plays, with Halliday hitting Vince Mayle in the end zone for a 28-0 lead that stood at halftime.
Halliday had 321 passing yards and three touchdowns in the first half, while Myers caught seven passes for 150 yards in the first. Portland State was held to 119 total yards in the first half.
Portland State finally got on the scoreboard on the first series of the second half. Richard scored on a 7-yard run, capping an 11-play, 85-yard drive, to cut WSU’s lead to 28-7.
After a Washington State punt, the Vikings marched 71 yards in six plays. McDonagh completed the drive with a 24-yard touchdown pass to Kasey Closs in the end zone as Portland State cut WSU’s lead to 28-14.
Washington State replied with a 75-yard drive that ended with Halliday’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Myers, for a 35-14 lead late in the third. Myers caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Halliday on WSU’s next possession for a 42-14 lead.
Halliday was intercepted by Patrick Onwuasor, who returned the ball 42 yards for a touchdown, but Portland State still trailed 42-21 with 13:19 left in the game.
Halliday and Myers connected on a 55-yard touchdown pass midway through the fourth.
This is Portland State’s second game against a Pac-12 team this season. It lost 29-14 at Oregon State on Aug. 30, after leading at halftime. The Vikings dropped to 2-32 all-time against FBS schools, including 0-14 against Pac-12 schools.
Portland State piled up 507 yards of offense in edging lower-division Western Oregon 45-38 last week, but couldn’t get untracked against the Cougars.