SEATTLE – It can be hard to grasp what the Apple Cup means to Washington State solely based on conversations with the man calling the shots for the Cougars.
“They’re all important,” is the customary response from fifth-year coach Mike Leach. Or something to that effect.
But there’s plenty at stake in Saturday’s rivalry game against No. 15 Washington (9-2, 6-2) – kickoff at Husky Stadium is set for 5 p.m. (Fox 28) – and thanks to their late bye week, the 14th-ranked Cougars (9-2, 6-2) have had an additional seven days to be reminded of everything they’re playing for in what projects to be a wet and windy 110th Apple Cup.
The top prize is a Pac-12 North championship, something that’s eluded the Cougars since the conference added Colorado and Utah in 2011 and split into two divisions. By virtue of winning the North, the Cougars would secure a chance to play in the Pac-12 title game against USC next Friday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
“We need to win this one to get to the one we really want,” said quarterback Luke Falk, who would be just the fifth WSU signal-caller to win an Apple Cup in Seattle.
There’s 20 seniors on the WSU roster who’ve longed for a Pac-12 title since they arrived on campus four or five years ago. But there’s another spot on the trophy shelf inside the Cougars’ football operations building that’s been lonely for quite some time, too.
Behind a glass barrier, there’s an empty shelf with red lettering: “Apple Cup.” Across the back face of the wall, the white script reads: “Take back the Cup: This space is reserved as the rightful home of the Apple Cup trophy. It’s temporary absence leaves a hunger in all Cougars committed to its timely return.”
The golden grail that’s supposed to sit there has taken up residency in Seattle since 2013.
“It’s a big game for us for sure,” said senior Isaac Dotson, a fifth-year senior linebacker from Bellevue. “We all have friends on that team. It’s going to mean a lot for sure.”
UW’s seniors won’t be playing for a Pac-12 title regardless of how Saturday’s game ends, but the Huskies wouldn’t mind playing spoiler for their Evergreen State rivals. And for the fourth- and fifth-year Huskies, this is an opportunity to sweep the Cougars – something the UW players won’t be taking lightly.
Equally, there are 16 fifth-year seniors at WSU who are eager to stop the bleeding.
“Of course we want to play every game like it’s just another game, but there’s something about this game we can do with this program that hasn’t been done in a long time,” said Cole Madison, a redshirt senior right tackle for the Cougars who grew up near Seattle in Burien. “You fuel the fire with that and that’s how I’m looking at it.”
The Cougars haven’t won in Seattle in a decade and the Huskies are the only team Falk’s yet to beat in four years as WSU’s starter – a span of time that’s seen him break every significant Pac-12 passing record and become his school’s most victorious quarterback (26 wins).
The Logan, Utah, native was wearing a beanie and street clothes when the Cougars traveled to Husky Stadium two years ago. Dealing with a concussion, Falk watched his backup, Peyton Bender, struggle mightily and the Huskies sprinted off with a 45-10 win.
“That was one of the hardest days,” Falk said. “Being on the sideline, not being able to do anything that game. So I’m really excited that I get the opportunity to go in there with my teammates and play at Husky Stadium. It’ll be a good, fun game and I’m really looking forward to it.”
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