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TV take: Brock Huard ‘can’t believe that call’ as late roughing the passer looms large in Apple Cup

Vince Grippi The Spokesman-Review

It’s funny what pressure can do. Diamonds or dust, either one.

For Washington State’s Cougars on Saturday, playing their final conference Apple Cup, it produced a tarnished gem. For the host Huskies, it almost turned their hopes of a CFP berth, the Pac-12’s first 9-0 mark and a trophy they had won 11 times in the previous 13 years, into dust.

A dust that seemed to cloud everyone, even referee Matthew Richards, whose controversial roughing-the-passer call with less than a minute left helped lift the Huskies’ to a 24-21 season-saving victory.

What they saw

• The final margin came on Grady Gross’ 42-yard field goal as the clock expired. But the game revolved on two plays during a 12-play drive in the final two minutes.

The first was an exceptional one from the Huskies, a trick play on fourth-and-1 from their 29 with 75 seconds left.

Heisman candidate Michael Penix Jr. faked an inside run, only to pitch the ball to Rome Odunze on a reverse. It resulted in a gutsy 23-yard gain. A season-saving gain. But it might not have been if not for the next play, good for 15 yards – to field-goal range – as Richards tagged Ron Stone Jr. with a roughing the passer call.

“Ahhhhh, I don’t know,” said Brock Huard, the emotion reverberating in his voice as he viewed the replay. “He doesn’t run through him. Is it a tick late, OK? This is the Apple Cup with everything on the line. I can’t believe that call.”

The former UW quarterback and his Fox play-by-play partner Jason Benetti then brought in rules analyst Dean Blandino to give his view.

“Was it a tick late? To me, no,” Blandino said. “Look, the ball’s gone, he takes one step, he doesn’t hit him in the head.

“I just don’t like it. There’s nothing about it that says roughing the passer.”

But it was called as such. Unlike another key play.

• Richards, who WSU followers remember from a crucial mistaken kickoff penalty at California four years ago, had a chance to make a similar roughing call earlier.

On that one, Fox’s replays caught Richards reaching for his flag as Zion Tupuolo-Fetui blasted WSU quarterback Cameron Ward late on an interception by UW’s Thaddeus Dixon. But Richards didn’t finish the action, with another angle of the same play seeming to indicate he stopped short after seeing the resulting interception. Three plays later, UW (12-0, 9-0 Pac-12) scored to take a 14-7 lead.

• “They’ve actually played (this game) in driving snow before,” Benetti said at one point in the third quarter, the score tied at 14 and a triangle of blue sky dominating the screen. “This is as beautiful as it gets for the Apple Cup. The last one in Pac-12 play and Washington just cannot extract itself from the Cougars.”

The Cougars (5-7, 2-7) moved the ball past midfield before Ward tried to hook up with Lincoln Victor over the middle. The ball, behind Victor, went off his hands, off those of Elijah Jackson and into Makell Easton’s just above the turf.

“Rivalry games, man,” Huard said. “Rivalry games bring out the craziest bounces and breaks at moments you can never script.”

An emotional change?

Nope. The WSU defense held up. And then the offensive line, which had been manhandled much of the day, held up for a drive. A 13-play, 65-yard one, resulting in a Ward-to-Victor 8-yard throw. With six minutes left, the game was tied.

What we saw

• Yes, it was clear at Husky Stadium when it came to the weather. But the figurative clouds were everywhere, at least among those who love the Apple Cup and how it fits into Pac-12 history.

Count Huard among that group. His thoughts as the final conference Apple Cup began? This game is familial and familiar. A type of family bonding. Which meant this meeting was a form of divorce court.

Washington State’s cloudy future hung heavy, no matter the result. The storm has been building for months, but Saturday’s news from about 260 miles down Interstate 5 added to the fog.

Before kickoff, the news broke Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith was leaving Corvallis to take Michigan State’s open position. That’s newsworthy in that the Beavers, who lost to Oregon 31-7 on Friday night, are part of the Pac-2, paired with Wazzu as the lone remaining schools in a once-proud conference.

But there is another level to the move.

Smith is an Oregon State graduate, the former quarterback who returned home to rebuild the program. If the Beavers can’t keep a legacy in the fold, a well-paid, successful legacy at that, how will they, or the Cougars, keep their programs at a level that gives their fans hope?

It may be as unlikely that will happen as it is for the Cougars to win in this series.

• Sideline reporter Allison Williams felt the mood from the booth pregame and was able to echo it in her first cut-in from the field. It wasn’t surprising she spoke of the emotion the players were displaying pregame, but it was instructive. Built off the pregame ceremonies.

The most emotional moment was caught on Fox’s cameras as Tupuolo-Fetui hugged his mom, Tammy Fetui, in the pregame senior ceremonies. It came just weeks after Zion’s dad and Tammy’s husband Molia died . The scene tugged on everyone’s heart, no matter which team you were supporting.

“It was just unreal considering what they have been through,” Benetti described it, reflecting the thoughts of everyone watching.

After that, emotion suited up, with Washington State showing a majority of it, buoyed by two Ward touchdown passes. One finished a three-play, first-quarter scoring drive, the other a last-second teardrop before halftime, helped by, as Benetti pointed out numerous times, an odd UW timeout deep in its territory instead of running out the clock.

The Huskies’ emotion? If playing tight is an emotion, Washington exhibited it. An already clinched berth in Friday’s Pac-12 title game. An unbeaten season. A possible CFP berth. All seemed to put the Huskies into a bit of a fog.

“This shows why no team has … gone unscathed in the Pac-12,” Huard said as the game came down to the wire.