SEATTLE – The Washington State football team read off a familiar script in Friday afternoon’s Apple Cup. The setting was different, but the cast and characters were largely the same as last year’s comeback victory against Washington for the Cougars.
It was reenacting the ending that proved problematic as WSU fell to UW, 27-17.
In 2012, the Cougars let a small halftime lead slip away thanks to a third-quarter scoring barrage by the Huskies, but mounted a big fourth-quarter comeback to force overtime, eventually coming away with the victory.
It nearly worked again in 2013, but at Husky Stadium the Huskies (7-4, 5-4 Pac-12) made sure the final act played out differently.
“I thought it was a game that was sliced very thin and they came out on top, which is unfortunate for us, but we’re going to continue to improve…” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “But it was a very tight game and I thought well-contested on both sides.”
WSU (6-6, 4-5 Pac-12) led 10-3 at the half, but allowed UW to run off 17 straight points in the third quarter to take a 20-10 lead. WSU cut the lead to three on Halliday’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Dominique Williams with 7:30 left in the game.
The play followed a 22-yard completion to Williams on fourth-and-15, and gave the Cougars an extra 9 yards when linebacker John Timu was given a personal foul for targeting Williams.
Timu was initially ejected from the game because of the call but was reinstated after a review by the officials. Penalties played a large role in last year’s Cougars comeback with the Huskies getting flagged 18 times.
The Cougars forced a three-and-out on UW’s ensuing possession to keep the comeback right on schedule.
But history neglected to repeat itself, as Gregory Ducre intercepted Halliday’s pass intended for Isiah Myers at the WSU 37-yard line.
“I was throwing a post to Isiah on the first one and a linebacker dropped underneath it so I tried to body shot him and Isiah didn’t see the ball thrown,” Halliday said. “So it ended up being behind him and the corner picked it.”
Seven consecutive rushes by the Huskies later and UW’s lead was back up to 10 points with just over 2 minutes remaining in the game.
Halliday finished 32-of-59 passing for 282 yards and a pair of touchdowns. But he was sacked five times just a week after sending national sack-leader Utah home empty, and threw two critical fourth-quarter interceptions.
“I thought in spots (the offensive line) played really well. Of course, Washington’s defensive front is really good,” Leach said. “It was just a play here or there. We never really had consistent breakdowns, it would be one here or there, that type of thing.”
Defensively the Cougars imposed their will in the first half, forcing four straight three-and-outs and limiting the Huskies to just 144 yards of offense. But UW accumulated 190 yards in the third quarter alone, doing enough offensively to hold WSU at bay the rest of the game.
Facing third-and-5 on their own 20-yard line on its first drive of the second half, the Huskies offense again appeared unable to move the ball against the Cougars. But running back Bishop Sankey took a screen pass 40 yards downfield and added an 18-yard run moments later.
“That was big, it was third-down-and-long and we expect to get off the field on third-down-and-long,” cornerback Nolan Washington said. “The fact that they converted was a big play for them and they capitalized on it.”
The drive was capped with a game-tying 18-yard pass to Austin Seferian-Jenkins, starting a 17-point quarter for UW.
“The playmakers stepped up,” WSU safety Deone Bucannon said. “Bishop Sankey and Keith Price made the decision going into halftime that they were going to carry the team and I don’t know what happened, they decided to make plays and be players like they are.”
Sankey ran for 139 yards in the second half to finish the game with 200.
The WSU defense forced Price into three first-half fumbles, and limited him to just 5-of-8 passing with an interception through the game’s first two quarters. Price sat out last week’s game against Oregon State because of shoulder pain, and backup quarterback Cyler Myles warmed up on the sidelines throughout the game. But Price came back and went 10 of 12 with a touchdown over the final two periods.