PULLMAN – The Washington Huskies spent much of Saturday’s Apple Cup running over, around and through the Washington State defense.
But the Cougars came up with nearly enough big plays to survive the onslaught of Chris Polk, Jake Locker and company.
The first came late in the first half with the Huskies leading 14-0 and threatening to send the Cougar crowd out into the Pullman night at halftime.
A third score might just ice what would turn out to be a tight 35-28 UW victory.
But Deone Bucannon, the freshman safety who took over a starting spot at midseason, came up with an interception of Locker in the back of the end zone to pull the Cougars back from the abyss.
“I didn’t think I would make it,” said Bucannon, who trailed an open Devin Aguilar by a couple yards. “But I saw that the D-line bought me some time so I tried to use as much recovery speed as I could.”
He had just enough, as Locker, flushed from the pocket, threw a floater that finished in Bucannon’s chest.
The pick gave the WSU offense the ball with 1 minute, 41 seconds left and it scored its first touchdown a little over a minute later.
The Huskies misfired on another red-zone chance early in the fourth quarter, though this time Locker and freshman Jesse Callier fumbled it away. On fourth-and-6 from the WSU 1, Locker tried to pull back an exchange with Callier and dropped the ball, before accidentally knocking it backward as he tried to fall on it.
WSU senior defensive end Kevin Kooyman scooped up the ball and returned it 33 yards to midfield.
“I was on the backside and it was just a botched situation and the ball got on the ground,” Kooyman said. “I was just in the right place at the right time. … I definitely saw the goal line, but I was just thinking about holding on to the ball – don’t fumble.”
The Cougars didn’t take advantage though, as Jeff Tuel was sacked on a fourth-down play a minute later. Ten seconds after that Chris Polk put UW back in the end zone with a 57-yard run.
“You always expect anything can happen in the Apple Cup,” Kooyman said. “The momentum can change just like that and you saw that this game.”
Going out with a flair
Washington State honored 20 seniors before the game and two of them came up big in their last Martin Stadium appearance.
Receiver Daniel Blackledge caught a career-high seven passes for a career-high 132 yards. He also had a 14-yard touchdown reception that pulled WSU within 21-14 midway through the third quarter.
“I expected to have a good game,” said Blackledge, who was escorted by his brother in the pregame as their mother died almost two years ago. “With Marquess (Wilson) and Jared (Karstetter) on the outside, they’re going to be big targets always, so I try to take advantage of every moment I get.”
“Daniel played huge today,” Tuel said. “He bailed me out a few times today. I thought I overthrew him but he can run a little bit.”
So can James Montgomery.
The transfer from Cal who missed most of last season with a traumatic calf injury, looked like his pre-injury self Saturday, carrying the ball 12 times for 78 yards, a 6.5 yards-per-carry average.
“I’ve been saying these past couple weeks, I could just feel it in practice, my leg coming back,” Montgomery said. “It was a long work in progress. I guess it took me 12 weeks.”
And now it’s over.
“I’ve been playing since I was eight,” he said. “I’ve had a nice long career. But I’ll still be getting ready for pro day and see if I can make it to the next level.”
The Cougars were called for four illegal chop blocks, though only two were accepted. The penalty carries a 15-yard mark-off, so the calls stalled some drives.
They had been called for one in the first 11 games.
“We just cut guys on pass (protection) as everybody does,” coach Paul Wulff said. “I don’t know. We haven’t had that. We didn’t block any different than we had all year.”
One of the calls came against junior guard B.J. Guerra, who said he wasn’t given an explanation on what he did wrong.
“I wasn’t going to argue with him,” Guerra said. “He wasn’t in the mood to deal with confrontation.”
The penalties put a crimp in the Cougars’ first-half offense.
“We had just a few chop block calls that were a little nit-picky,” Montgomery said. “It was something we had never seen before.”