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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Down 21-0 and already soaked by a downpour by the end of the first quarter, Washington State coach Mike Leach gathered his team around him.
"When you stop beating yourselves, you'll find a way to win this game," Leach told his team, not in one of his trademark tirades, but in a calm, firm voice.
Connor Halliday, who threw for 417 yards and four touchdowns, settled into a groove in the second half and indeed found a way to help Washington State overcome a 17-point halftime deficit and shock Utah, 28-27 on Saturday night.
By throwing the game-winning score to Vince Mayle, Halliday broke Alex Brink's school record for touchdown passes and now has 78. He also topped Brink's mark for career completions and stands at 860 and posted his tenth 400-yard game.
The Cougars needed everything Halliday could give when all the breaks seemed to be going against them.
"We created our own adversity and we had to outlast it. It took nearly the whole game to outlast it, but we had to do it," Leach said of his team's three-touchdown deficit.
Rain fell steadily throughout but Halliday heated up in the second half, throwing for 267 yards in the final two quarters and the WSU defense came up with key stops to give the Cougars (2-3, 1-1 Pac-12) a big road victory.
"It was a step forward for our defense because it was the most complete game we've played since I've been here," Leach said.
On a drive that started on his own 8, Halliday connected with Mayle in full stride across the middle. Mayle, who had eight receptions for 120 yards, sped untouched 81 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:58 remaining.
On the ensuing possession, the Utes (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) converted one fourth down on a Devontae Booker run, but Charleston White broke up a long pass to give the ball back to the Cougars at the WSU 49 with 2:30 play.
Aided by two timeouts, the Utah defense held and the Cougars punted after consuming just 1:04. Again, White broke up a fourth-down pass intended for receiver Dres Anderson, who didn't have a catch after compiling 252 in the first three games.
In stark contrast to Halliday, Utah's Travis Wilson completed 18 of 38 passes for 165 and consistently overthrew receivers or rifled the ball too hard. Booker rushed 24 times for 178 yards but the Cougars outgained the Utes 495-357.
One week after falling just short against No. 2 Oregon (38-31), the Cougars saved their best for last against the previously unbeaten Utes.
On fourth-and-14, Halliday waited for Dom Williams to clear to the back of the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown with 8:08 to play. Halliday and his coach, who is known for taking risks, scored two TDs on fourth-and-long situations.
"Coach trusts us on those fourth-down situations," Williams said and later added, "and we trust Connor will make the right play."
Jason Fanaika, who spent much of the game in the WSU backfield, wrestled away a loose ball after it slipped out of Halliday's hands just before he wound up to throw a pass. Halliday had completed eight straight passes before the rain-soaked ball squirted up into the air and glanced off his helmet and onto the wet turf.
"We weren't getting tired. We were going all out. The only thing to say is (WSU) players made plays when the opportunities presented themselves," Fanaika said.
The Ute offense, on the other hand, sputtered when the ball wasn't in Booker's hands but moved enough for Andy Phillips to kick a 43-yard field goal with 14:13 remaining to make it 27-14 for Utah but the Utes couldn't get close enough again to get Phillips a chance at a game-winner.
"When you only score one offensive touchdown, you don't have much of a chance to win. That was really the issue. We have to be more productive," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
After a fumble recovery by Kache Palacio in the third quarter, Halliday finally looked like he was in rhythm and marched the Cougars down the field with passes to the right, left and middle. Halliday hit Mayle on a 11-yard touchdown strike to draw WSU to 24-14.
"We're taught to never look at the scoreboard. We just kept playing, even when it looked bad," Palacio said.
Halliday escaped the Ute rush on fourth-down-and-9 and lofted a 35-yard touchdown pass to Williams with 6:54 left until halftime. Phillips added a 46-yard field goal with five seconds remaining in the second quarter and the Utes looked to be in command with a 24-7 lead at halftime.
Eric Rowe jumped a quick slant, grabbed a tipped ball for an interception and returned it 11 yards for Utah's first touchdown of the game with 10:01 left in the first quarter.
After stopping the Cougar offense again, Kaelin Clay shed a tackle near the sideline and then sped across the field and down the other sideline for a 58-yard TD return. The scintillating run marked his third punt return for a touchdown this season which ties Steve Smith's record set in 1999.
The Utes scored again when Booker scampered 76 yards for a touchdown and made it 21-0 in the first quarter.
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