The reality is when it comes to the Apple Cup you throw out the records because anything can happen. This past Friday more than proved it when the lowly Cougars stunned the overconfident Huskies with a combination of grit and determination and literally stole the Cup back to Pullman where it will be housed for the next year. The Huskies left the Palouse with their tails tucked beneath their legs and will have a whole year to think about it.
Years ago when I was coaching for Don James and we lost a similar game to the Cougars and he put the number of days until the next Apple Cup on every practice plan, on every schedule, and basically on everyone’s locker until the next time we were scheduled to play them. Because we failed to go to a bowl game that year he even went so far as to buy us all a “no bowl” watch and we had to put a little red dot on it to remind us all of how important it was to beat the Cougars and qualify for a bowl.
Basically the Cougars won three of the four quarters and for whatever the reason the Huskies came out flat for the second week in a row against an inferior opponent. The previous weekend the Huskies failed to show up in the first quarter against a terrible Colorado team and only led 7-0 at half. This game they trailed at half 10-7 before making a game of it in the third quarter when they scored three times to take an 18 point lead. They thought they had it in the bag at that point but they underestimated their rival and by the end had lost to another terrible team. So what does that make the Huskies?
You can never let one game dictate or define your season because it is a collection of wins that determine your overall record and whether you win a championship or not. That is not the case, however, if you are a Cougar because beating the Huskies is simply the most significant thing in any Cougar’s life. It’s never been like that for Huskies and no matter what you try to tell them they never realize the importance of this game to the Cougs. Honestly, if you ask any Husky fan, what team would you most like to beat? I’ll bet the majority say the Ducks. If you ask a Cougar that question it is always the Huskies. The Washington Huskies are a good team but with 5 losses they are far from a great team. They had three really good wins and three really bad losses and even though the Cougars barely won this last one, that’s all it takes.
Interestingly for me was that the Cougars were exactly like they were when I was a senior and the Cougar captain in 1967. That was 45 years ago and we entered that game with no conference wins and only one victory on the whole season. We beat a 5-4 Husky team in Husky Stadium and get this; we won it 9 to 7 because the Huskies’ kicker missed a chip-shot field goal on the last play of the game. Sound familiar? It was almost spooky for me watching the Husky kicker “Coug it” on the last play of regulation. I promise you that beating Washington was one of the greatest wins for all of us and even though our coach got fired the next day we had done something no Cougar team had done in 8 years and that was to win the Apple Cup. That time it made our whole season because we had only beaten Idaho and Washington but for a Cougar those are the most important games of any year. This time I was literally sick at the end of the game because even though I was a Cougar, I am now a Husky and the result pretty much wrecked an otherwise good year. It also means that Washington essentially has not taken the next step as Coach Sarkisian has been preaching all year long. They have improved, but good teams win the games they’re supposed to and the Dawgs failed miserably in this, a game they should’ve won.
It’s never fair to place the blame for a loss on any one player or one play because if the Huskies had really taken care of business it wouldn’t have come down to the last kick. Unfortunately, they didn’t appear ready for this opponent and when they had their chance to put the game away they didn’t. Of course, the kicker was bailed out of full blame when Keith Price resorted back to his old ways and stupidly threw up an interception that sealed the Cougars’ comeback. For whatever reasons Price has had a disappointing junior year and you have to believe that Coach Sarkisian will open up the competition at the quarterback position as early as next spring.
Winning or losing in college football is such a fine line and sometimes the stars just all align properly and the underdog, er undercat, steals the prize. Of course, a few Cougar fans had to wreck the victory by attacking the Husky players as they left the field proving that Oregon isn’t the only school with obnoxious fans. That didn’t piss me off as much as a few of their players who sprinted across the field not to shake hands with the Huskies but to taunt and ridicule them. That sort of player misbehavior is simply reflective of not knowing how to win but then when you leave your opponent in the game instead of putting them away you pay the price of losing and the insults that come with it.
Playing in Pullman is very difficult in itself and this Husky team had to watch all those games of the Cougars who entered the game with an 0-8 conference record and had been blown out by 40 and 50 points. Kids are kids and it’s a tough sell to prepare your team when the other team looks so bad on film. Hopefully, the Huskies who return next year, and there are a lot of them, will remember this insulting behavior and this disheartening loss and be more mentally and emotionally prepared in late November of 2013 when they host the Apple Cup in Husky Stadium. They’d better be or they’re liable to repeat this same scenario. Give credit to your opponent but light a fire in your guts that burns for a year. They are your rival and it’s always more dangerous if they’re entering the game with a terrible record. It happened in 1967, in 1982 and 83, and in 1992, all years when the Huskies were ranked or had the better record and the Cougars were going nowhere. Of course it also happened in reverse when the Huskies upset a ranked Cougar team in 2001, 2002, and 2003 when the Cougars were at their peak winning 10 games per year. That’s what makes the Apple Cup such a special game, anything can happen and usually does.
That’s why it is such a special game and that is exactly why you’d better play your best or you’re going to regret it for at least a year and probably a lifetime. Good for the Cougars and their fans but hopefully they too learn from the experience. I know this, when I was a kid and if some stupid fan attacked me with my helmet on right after we had lost a game, I’d have dropped him right there on the spot. But then again maybe I would have just walked away. It never happened and shouldn’t because it’s only a game, isn’t it?