Ranking Mike Leach's craziest Pac-12 After Dark games as Mississippi State faces Arizona
A late night awaits Mississippi State football (1-0). It’s familiar territory for Mike Leach and much of his staff, and not only because of last week’s prolonged night against Memphis.
“I thought I got away from Pac-12 After Dark,” MSU special teams coach Eric Mele said. He was at Washington State throughout Leach's eight seasons.
Pac-12 After Dark is a magical place for college football fans where games have a knack for craziness as the clock approaches midnight on the East Coast.
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Leach was the perfect fit. His personality paired with the Air Raid offense created a fine recipe for fans looking for wackiness before they headed to bed or purchased another round.
The late-night action has continued without Leach since 2019. But the wait is over. Mississippi State vs. Arizona (10 p.m., FS1) is the latest game on Saturday's slate.
To get you prepared, let’s relive Leach’s wildest Pac-12 After Dark games.
UCLA beats Washington State 44-36: Nov. 10, 2012
The Cougars went 3-9 in Leach's first season and lost four games by at least 20 points. After winning nine games the previous four seasons under Paul Wulff, WSU fans were used to losing.
They weren’t used to games with two blocked field goals and a blocked punt in the first quarter.
“I was not coaching special teams at the time, I’ll just say that,” said Mele, who was at WSU throughout Leach's tenure. “That was a ranked team. Just a really good team. We lost the game by eight and made some mistakes that could’ve swayed in our favor, but that kind of gave us some momentum actually.”
The game concluded at 11:13 p.m. PT, and those on Eastern time (2:13 a.m.) had likely given up watching.
UCLA outscored WSU by 30 in the second quarter for a 37-7 halftime lead. The Cougars got within one score with nearly two minutes left, but fell short despite Connor Halliday's five passing touchdowns.
Washington State beats Boise State 47-44 (3 OT): Sept. 9, 2017
Craig Powers attended WSU from 2003-2007 and has been working for CougCenter, the WSU affiliate of SB Nation, since 2009. He remembers the excitement of the 2017 season, one where the Cougars were ranked every week, and the importance of the Week 2 matchup with Boise State.
If WSU could beat Boise State, Powers said, it could easily start 4-0. A 31-10 deficit with 10:53 left in regulation wasn’t part of the plan.
A pair of passing touchdowns, the first by now-MSU wide receiver Jamire Calvin, sandwiched a pick-six from Peyton Pelluer who served as a volunteer assistant at MSU when Leach arrived.
The magnitude of the win, albeit at home against an unranked, resulted in a field storming around 1:42 a.m. CT.
“It was an epic comeback,” Mele says.
Washington State beats Oregon State 54-53: Nov. 23, 2019
This turned out to be Leach’s final home game before departing for WSU, so it had to be entertaining.
“It was a really wild game,” Leach called it postgame.
Washington State trailed by 11 with 4:17 remaining in the game – just five minutes after leading by 10.
Powers admits to not caring much when WSU trimmed the deficit to five because he didn’t think the Cougars' defense could respond with a stop. But they did, forcing a turnover on downs near midfield to set up a touchdown with two seconds remaining.
The game was called the Bowl Bowl, Powers said, as both teams entered with five wins. Running back Max Borghi, who scored the winning touchdown, predicted WSU would be bowl eligible after winning.
Cal beats Washington State 60-59: Oct. 4, 2014
Rarely does a quarterback break the NCAA single-game passing record in a loss.
Yet Connor Halliday walked off the field in defeat after throwing for 734 yards — a mark since matched by Patrick Mahomes.
Halliday went head-to-head with now-Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff. They combined for 1,261 passing yards and 11 touchdowns.
The game was high-scoring, but not unreasonably by halftime when WSU led 24-13. A 56-point third quarter changed everything, highlighted by this three-minute sequence: Washington State passing touchdown. Cal kickoff return touchdown. Washington State passing touchdown. Cal kickoff return touchdown.
It ended with WSU's Quentin Breshears missing a 19-yard field goal on third down with 15 seconds left.
“I got promoted next week to coach special teams,” Mele said.
UCLA beats Washington State 67-63: Sept. 21, 2019
UCLA’s 32-point second half comeback remains the third largest in FBS history.
Similar to Halliday’s performance against Cal, Anthony Gordon’s nine passing touchdowns came with a loss. The Cougars turned the ball over six times.
“What other bad memories you have?” Mele joked. “My grandparents died. My dog’s dead. You want to talk about that?”
Powers left the game before its conclusion to avoid letting his frustration out in public. He returned to his tailgating area and helped clear out a beer cooler.
The game concluded at 11:27 p.m. PT.
Stefan Krajisnik is the Mississippi State beat writer for the Clarion Ledger. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @skrajisnik3.