PULLMAN – A rivalry game can turn on any number of things.
A trick play. A missed tackle. An unknown’s career day. A drawn-out replay. A surprise comeback. A last-second perfect throw.
Any of them.
Or, like Saturday’s 103rd Apple Cup, all of them.
And most were made by the Washington Huskies.
That included the last one, a 27-yard pass from senior Jake Locker to junior Jermaine Kearse in the front corner of Martin Stadium’s east end zone with 44 seconds left, lifting UW to a 35-28 victory and into the postseason.
“I don’t really have the words to explain how I feel,” said Locker, who capped a four-year college football career that included seemingly everything but a bowl game by running for 29 yards and throwing for 226.
That outcome had seemed a foregone conclusion when Chris Polk, the 5-foot-11, 214-pound sophomore, exploded off right tackle and avoided safety Deone Bucannon in the hole for a 57-yard touchdown run with 13 minutes, 18 seconds left to play.
The run, part of Polk’s bruising career-best 284 yards on 29 carries, gave UW a 28-14 lead and quieted the 30,157 who braved the freezing temperatures.
But Jeff Tuel led WSU on two quick scoring drives, finishing the first with a 1-yard sneak and the second, with 4:26 left, with a bullet from 16 yards out to Marquess Wilson, giving the freshman receiver 1,006 yards on the year, eighth best in WSU history.
The Huskies, (6-6, 5-4 and fourth in the Pac-10), needed three consecutive season-ending wins to go bowling for the first time since 2002. They kept the hope alive last week with a last-play win at California.
Starting at its 10 shouldn’t have seemed daunting, as UW opened the game with a 16-play, 98-yard scoring drive.
On the third play, Polk broke off right tackle for 36 yards before Aire Justin could bring him down.
In WSU territory, the Dawgs ran three times. That left them with a fourth-and-1 at the 31. Out trotted kicker Erik Folk, but too slowly. The play clock ran out as coach Steve Sarkisian called time.
“I was little surprised they weren’t going to go for it,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said, “because it was a long (48-yard) field goal. But when they called timeout, I knew they would come back with their offense.”
Sarkisian changed his mind, sent the offense out and ran Polk off right tackle. It worked for 15 yards. As time ticked away, a run and penalty pushed UW back to the 27, where it faced a second-and-21.
“It was a gutsy call on their part to throw it,” WSU co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball said.
Locker, who was 13 for 21 for 199 yards at the time, did just that.
Kearse, who early had outbattled cornerback Nolan Washington on a fake-punt pass just prior to UW’s second TD, was matched against him again.
They were stride for stride down the right sideline until the end zone. Then Kearse got separation, got the ball and got a foot down for the win.
“He pushed off at the last minute and, when I looked up, the ball was behind me and I couldn’t get to it,” said Washington, who gave up 3 inches to the 6-2 Kearse.
The Cougars (2-10, 1-8) got the ball back with 36 seconds left, completed a couple of passes – the first took 8 minutes of replay to confirm – but Tuel’s last-second heave was picked off by Nate Fellner.
Tuel finished 25 of 35 for 298 yards and three touchdowns in his first Apple Cup experience, 132 of those yards going to Daniel Blackledge in his last.
Blackledge, who had seven catches, giving him career highs in both categories, made a series of impressive grabs on the two fourth-quarter scoring drives.