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 Spokanes Ferris High School, made his second college start due to the knee injury suffered by senior Jeff Tuel in last Saturdays win over Eastern Washington.
Coach Mike Leach refused to say whether hes decided on his starting quarterback for next week. The Cougars (2-1) open Pac-12 Conference play Saturday 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 wouldnt like a quarterback thats launching the ball?
Leach puts a lot on the quarterbacks shoulders to call your own play at the line of scrimmage, Halliday said. I think I got settled in well there and made some great decisions for the rest of the game after I made that first pick (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.
Wilsons second TD, an 81-yard bomb he caught in stride at midfield, gave WSU a 28-10 lead 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 WSUs halftime lead to 28-20.
Hallidays 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. Andrei Lintz recovered the onside kick, and after WSU was stopped at midfield on a fourth-down run with 40 seconds to go, the Rebels, out of timeouts, stalled at midfield.
We cant put the game away, safety Casey Locker said. Thats something weve got to figure out here real quick.
The entertaining contest was played before a crowd of 17,015 that was fairly evenly divided. WSU reported sales of more than 5,000 tickets through the Cougars ticket office.
WSU edged the Rebels (0-3) 461-460 in total yards. Redshirt freshman Nick Sherry tied a school record by completing 33 of his 49 passes. He had 351 passing yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
Halliday went 26 for 45. He scrambled well when pressured, but WSUs offensive line did its best job of pass blocking this season after making more personnel changes.