PULLMAN – Washington State captured an elusive Apple Cup victory last year and marked the occasion with a wild celebration on the field at Husky Stadium.
It was undoubtedly one of the most blissful moments for the Cougars in recent memory – a long-awaited outpouring of emotion after years of misery against their bitter rivals from the West Side .
“The feeling of winning (the Apple Cup), you want to chase that,” WSU edge rusher Brennan Jackson said. “Having that feeling last year, knowing what it meant to the fans, the university, the coaching staff and all the players … you know what you want and what needs to be done.”
WSU hopes to replicate the magic of 2021 at its home stadium and Washington is looking to settle the score. The Cougars and Huskies clash at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Gesa Field.
“It’s important for them and it’s really important for us,” WSU coach Jake Dickert said.
The Cougars (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12) find themselves in an unfamiliar position. For the first time since 2013, they are playing to retain the traveling trophy.
WSU snapped a seven-game skid in the series on a crisp November night in Seattle last season, blasting UW 40-13. Thousands of Cougars fans rushed the field. Then quarterback Jayden de Laura planted a massive Ol’ Crimson flag at the 50-yard line. That win was enough to convince WSU officials. They promoted Dickert, then the team’s interim coach, into the permanent job a day later.
Both programs have been rebuilt since then. WSU lost a dozen starters to graduation, welcomed a new coaching staff, installed a new offense and plugged several newcomers into key roles.
“Last year’s team won that game,” Dickert said. “I hear a lot about defending or keeping the trophy – no, we gotta go take it.”
UW, which was led by an interim coach during the last Apple Cup game and finished the year 4-8, hired coach Kalen DeBoer out of Fresno State just three days later.
He transformed the Huskies into one of the nation’s top offensive outfits. UW (9-2, 6-2) was alive for a berth to the Pac-12 title game until Saturday afternoon. Utah’s win over Colorado eliminated Huskies from contention.
“That’s what I feel – this is a championship-caliber program,” DeBoer said. “It was just a matter of how quickly we could get to this point.”
The Huskies made a major turnaround, and their returning players haven’t forgotten WSU’s postgame party in Seattle.
“To me, it’s the ultimate disrespect, and it was really a line that was crossed,” UW tight end Devin Culp said, per 247Sports.com. “It’s hard to let go of it. I don’t think any of us really have and I don’t think any of us really will.”
Like any good rivalry game, there will be added motivation on both sides. Throughout the week, Dickert and Cougars players addressed the significance of this game and discussed their approach to the Apple Cup: embrace the energy surrounding it but don’t get too caught up in the hubbub.
“Let’s be clear – this is not just another game,” Dickert said. “Our guys know the importance of it. We understand it.
“No matter what our record is, no matter the opponent, our process needs to stay (the same) and the standard always needs to stay really, really consistent. … Some guys ignore it. Some guys overhype it. I choose to understand the importance of this game within our program.”
Dickert used the Apple Cup as a recruiting tool this offseason. During official visits, he showed prospects the trophy and taught them about the rivalry series. Throughout the year, Dickert would ask former players and coaches to stop by and share their Apple Cup memories. Even as a first-year coach, he recognizes what the rivalry means to the WSU faithful and devotes the proper amount of attention to it.
“I always want our guys to know what that thing means when it’s here in Pullman,” he said.
Take a walk around WSU’s football complex and it’s clear that the Cougars value the Apple Cup ardently. Their facility includes multiple “Apple Cup countdown” clocks that tick year-round.
“We look at that timer every single day, up in our locker room,” Jackson said. “It’s just a different kind of energy this week. Obviously, we want to take every opponent the same and not get outside of ourselves, but we all know what week it is.
“We know the history of this game. We know what it meant for the guys before us.”
WSU fans would agree that no game means more – no loss is more painful and no win is more joyous, especially for the perennial Apple Cup underdogs . In 113 meetings, WSU has emerged victorious in 33 games.
The Cougars have never won more than two games in a row against UW, and they haven’t posted back-to-back wins in the series since 2007-08.
“We want to win it for Washington State, the state of Washington, put on for all the Cougs out there,” first-year WSU quarterback Cameron Ward said. “We all know what’s up for grabs. We’re just trying to stay cool, calm and collected like we always do.”
UW is a two-point favorite to reclaim the Apple Cup. The Huskies’ pacesetter is transfer quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who tops the nation with 3,869 passing yards. He rarely makes errant decisions and has absorbed only seven sacks (second nationally).
“Their quarterback has been elite,” Jackson said.
While UW has taken on a new identity as an offensive-minded club, the Cougars have become one of the Pac-12’s strongest defensive teams under Dickert. WSU leads the conference in points allowed (19.8 per game).
“I think we’ve definitely found our groove in these last couple of weeks,” Jackson added of the Cougars’ defense, which contained Arizona – a top-10 passing offense in the nation – last weekend in a 31-20 win. “We’re really looking forward to putting on a good show.”
The Huskies are riding a five-game winning streak, which began after they suffered an upset loss to Arizona State on Oct. 8. The spree was headlined by nail-biting wins over ranked challengers from Oregon and Oregon State.
The Cougars are also taking a hot streak into the game. WSU rebounded from a three-game skid in October and rattled off three consecutive wins this month.
“I think both teams are peaking in the last week of the year,” said Dickert, who could become the first coach in WSU history to score wins in his first two Apple Cups.
The Cougars will honor 13 seniors before kickoff. The group features a few standouts from WSU’s win over UW last year – like nickel Armani Marsh, who had two interceptions, taking one back for a touchdown. Three key newcomers will make their Apple Cup debuts, including linebacker Daiyan Henley, who is eager to get a taste of the rivalry series.
“You can feel those emotions, you can use them as fire,” he said. “That’s how I plan to do it, use my emotions to keep me pushing. I think that’s how the team is going to take it.
“The violence is amplified. You go out there and the intensity is not something that builds up. It’s already set throughout the week, throughout the season. … It’s something that boils over. We’re going to ride that wave and we’re ready to attack.”
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