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Five to remember: Sorting through the most important Apple Cups in Washington State history

Ryan Leaf celebrates Washington State’s 1997 Apple Cup 41-35 victory over Washington that secured the Cougars’ long-awaited Rose Bowl berth. (File / SR)
Ryan Leaf celebrates Washington State’s 1997 Apple Cup 41-35 victory over Washington that secured the Cougars’ long-awaited Rose Bowl berth. (File / SR)

PULLLMAN – The Washington State Cougars and Washington Huskies have played in the Apple Cup a grand total of 109 times and it’d be ill-informed to say there’s ever been a meaningless one.

The cross-state rivalry has been a staple of the college football scene in the Pacific Northwest since the teams wearing crimson and purple first collided in 1900. Regardless of records or ramifications, the Apple Cup is always good for a year’s worth of bragging rights if nothing else – and neither fanbases has ever taken that privilege lightly.

But every so often, the Apple Cup is precious because of the stakes attached to it. So the 110th edition of the game is nothing to scoff at – at least from the Washington State perspective.

Win Saturday’s Apple Cup (5 p.m., FOX) and the Cougars (9-2, 6-2) will book a spot in the Pac-12 championship game for the first time in program history.

From that standpoint, this edition of the rivalry game is as big as for the Cougars, but it isn’t the only time the Cougars have linked up with the Huskies with something on the line. We rewind the tape to take a chronological look at the five most important Apple Cups from WSU’s vantage point – starting with a game played just 363 days ago.

2016

At stake: Pac-12 championship game

The story: Both teams were four quarters shy of grabbing their first Pac-12 North crown when the rivals met last season in Pullman. The one-loss Huskies were also on the brink of becoming the second Pac-12 team to appear in the three-year-old College Football Playoff.

UW imposed its will from the opening kickoff.

Chris Petersen, renowned for his offensive tricks, designed a pass for receiver Dante Pettis on the first drive. Pettis completed it for 50 yards and a few plays later, Myles Gaskin ran in a 2-yard score to put the Huskies on the board. WSU’s Jamal Morrow fumbled on the ensuing possession and the Cougars, at that point, might as well have fumbled their fourth straight Apple Cup.

“So coming out that first drive and making them fumble, that was a statement from the jump,” UW cornerback Kevin King said. “That’s what we planned to do and all night we were hitting ‘em, hitting ‘em, hitting ‘em. And I’m sure the receivers are feeling it.”

The Huskies led 28-3 after one period and even when the Cougars had a chance to make it an 11-point game, they stumbled on the 2-yard line. Then UW went 98 yards the other way to extend the lead.

“We just got outmuscled by another team,” WSU receiver Gabe Marks said. “We’re soft.”

The result: UW 45, WSU 17

2002

At stake: Rose Bowl

The story: Yes, the Rose Bowl was the prize, but if the third-ranked Cougars didn’t clinch a berth here, they’d have a mulligan one week later at UCLA. And good thing.

In an Apple Cup that was both meaningful and eventful, the Cougars left the game in the hands of backup quarterback Matt Kegel when Jason Gesser sustained a high ankle sprain in the fourth quarter.

In the third overtime, UW kicker John Anderson toed his fifth consecutive field goal through the uprights at Martin Stadium to give the visitors – who were major underdogs – a three-point lead. That was followed by one of the most hotly-debated plays in the history of the century-old series.

On Kegel’s next snap, the QB attempted a screen pass but had it tipped at the point of release by UW defensive lineman Kai Ellis. Ellis pounced on the ball and moments later, referee Gordon Riese whistled that the game was over.

Elating the fans wearing purple and infuriating the ones in crimson, Riese proclaimed, “The ruling on the field was that it was a backwards pass. Washington recovered that pass, and the game is over.”

The Huskies, who trailed 17-7 at the half, couldn’t have done it without Anderson’s leg. The kicker missed on his first three tries, but slotted his next five to account for 17 of the 29 UW points.

Years later, Anderson told The Seattle Times, “I remember doing a TV interview after the game and the cameraman got hit by an apple.”

Apples, bottles and debris came from the crowd of livid WSU fans, who’d feel only slightly better about the result a week later when the Cougars pummeled the Bruins in Pasadena to secure a spot in the Rose Bowl.

The score: UW 29, WSU 26

1997

At stake: Rose Bowl

The story: Reaching the Rose Bowl had been a thorn in the Cougars’ side and the ’97 Apple Cup presented them with a chance to get back to Pasadena for the first time in 67 years.

WSU held a 6-1 record and a major advantage under center, with All-American/Heisman Trophy finalist Ryan Leaf calling the shots. But the Huskies were preseason Pac-10 favorites, came in with a 5-2 conference record and seemed primed for an upset. They’d won the last three Apple Cups and hadn’t lost one in Seattle in over a decade.

That didn’t sit well with Leaf, who was keen on adding to his Heisman portfolio.

“There was no way we were going to lose to them,” Leaf said afterward. “There was no way we were going to lose to Washington. We worked too hard.”

UW struck first, driving 71 yards in front of a home crowd that numbered 74,268. But the Cougars outscored the Huskies 17-0 in the second quarter and extended their lead to 24-7 in the third quarter when Rob Rainsville pounced on Michael Black’s fumble in the end zone.

But the disparity in quarterback play was evident. Leaf was good for 358 yards in the air and two touchdowns. The junior turned in a career game. Meanwhile, UW’s Brock Huard got the Huskies into the end zone plenty, but it came at the cost of throwing five interceptions.

“It was the most fun I’ve ever had in Seattle,” former WSU coach Mike Price said.

WSU fans agreed wholly. They raided the field afterward and tore down both Husky Stadium goalposts.

The score: WSU 41, UW 35

1981

At stake: Rose Bowl (for both)

The story: If you’re comparing Apple Cups, 2016 might be the closest thing to 1981. The ramifications, at least, were similar. The victor of the ’81 game would leave Husky Stadium with not one, but two trophies: an Apple Cup and a Pac-10 championship. WSU came in toting a 8-1-1 record and UW was 8-2. UW wouldn’t be eligible for the league title unless USC beat UCLA that same day. The Trojans held up their end of the bargain. So did the Huskies.

The stakes were more comparable to 2016, but the game itself felt more like 2002. The Cougars lost a starting quarterback – in ’02 it was Gesser, in ’81 it was Clete Casper – and everything else tumbled from there.

The Cougars led 7-3 in the first half when Casper left the game with a hamstring injury and the Huskies were jumpstarted when their own signal-caller, Steve Pelluer – the uncle of WSU’s current middle linebacker – heaved a wobbly pass into the right corner of the end zone to make it 10-7.

WSU banged in a field goal in the third quarter to tie the game, but the Huskies hit back with a touchdown to make it 17-10 and UW corner Vince Newsome, on the next possession, laid a jarring hit on Cougars fullback Robert Williams to knock the ball loose. The Huskies recovered and rendered the Cougar offense lifeless for the rest of the game.

UW went on to blank Iowa 28-0 in the 1982 Rose Bowl. The following November, the Apple Cup returned to Pullman for the first time in 28 years and the Cougars, just 2-7-1, pulled off a major upset and denied their purple-clad rivals – ranked No. 5 at the time – of a third straight Rose Bowl.

The score: UW 23, WSU 10

1942

At stake: Rose Bowl

The story: For the Cougars, a victory in the 36th installment of the rivalry game would’ve meant a trip to Pasadena for the first time in 11 years.

They came in with a 6-1-1 record, while the Huskies sported a 3-3 mark.

A Google search doesn’t produce much information about the game itself – other than the major gaffe that defined it. In the fourth quarter, the Cougars and Huskies were still deadlocked when WSU quarterback Jay Stoves heaved a 30-yard pass toward the end zone. Nick Susoeff was the target and should’ve been able to make a simple play, but the ball fell right through his arms.

WSU went the rest of the game without scoring, and so did UW. Susoeff’s blunder would be known as “the $100,000 miss.” That’s the sum of money the Cougars missed out on by not qualifying for the Rose Bowl. UCLA represented the Pacific Coast Conference instead.

The rivalry game took a three-year hiatus after 1942 because of World War II, but WSU’s Rose Bowl hiatus lasted another 53 years. The Cougars closed the ’42 campaign with a 21-0 loss to Texas A&M. It was the final game of Babe Hollingberry’s 17-year stint in Pullman. He’d leave the school with 93 wins – still more than any coach in WSU history.

The score: WSU 0, UW 0


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