Cougars score in final minutes to win second straight Cup
Seattle Times staff reporter
The season ended as it began for the Washington Huskies, and as it never had for the Washington State Cougars.
And maybe it was those conflicting emotions — one all too familiar, one completely foreign — that led to an ugly postgame scuffle after the Cougars snatched the Apple Cup away from UW 26-22 in front of 70,713 at Husky Stadium on Saturday.
The incident dominated the thoughts of Washington coach Tyrone Willingham, who spent much of his postgame news conference professing he was "disappointed to the point of being embarrassed" over his team's involvement in a brief altercation that began when the Cougars started dancing on the "W" at midfield.
"If you win the football game, then there is no celebration by the opponent," Willingham said. "We missed our opportunity to do that."
They missed it because the Cougars — who had lost five games this season by four points or less — finally didn't.
Down 22-19, the Cougars took over at their 20 with 5:31 left. Eight plays later, they faced a second-and-nine at the UW 39 when quarterback Alex Brink threw a bubble screen pass to receiver Trandon Harvey. Greg Prator then made a block that allowed Harvey to scamper untouched down the sideline for the winning touchdown with 1:20 left.
Brink said the play worked in part because the Huskies "weren't ready for it," appearing to still be lining up as the ball was snapped.
"I think everybody was pretty much set," said UW cornerback Matt Fountaine, who said he was waiting for Harvey to be forced inside so he could make the tackle. "But he never showed up, because I guess there was a great block out there."
Washington's loss was their third this season in the final 1:20, including the opener against Air Force.
For the Cougars, it snapped an equally frustrating season-long trend of blowing games at the end that had them facing the prospect of a winless conference season.
Fittingly, it left the two teams tied at the bottom of the Pac-10 at 1-7. Washington State finished 4-7 overall, Washington 2-9.
But the Cougars are able to claim the title of best in state for the second straight year — the first time they have won consecutive Apple Cups since 1983.
"The Cougars own Washington," yelled Cougars defensive end Mkristo Bruce. "That why it's called Washington state."
Just as important, the Cougars owned the line of scrimmage. Defensively, the Cougars held the Huskies to 99 yards on the ground, forcing UW to try to win the game through the air. The Huskies couldn't, due in part to some shaky throws by Isaiah Stanback.
Offensively, the Cougars got a fitting farewell from running back Jerome Harrison, who rushed for 207 yards to finish with 1,900 for the season, increasing a school record he broke last week.
"When you stop him, you stop them," Willingham said.
And Washington never did.
But while WSU had the edge in almost every statistical category, the Huskies had the lead most of the second half, in part because of three missed field goals by Cougars kicker Loren Langley and some timely offense.
The Cougars led 13-7 at halftime, each team scoring on long passes in the first quarter. Brink hit Prator from 30 yards and Washington scored on a 65-yard halfback pass from Kenny James to Sonny Shackelford.
Each team used fumbled punts by the other to score in the third quarter — a 16-yard Stanback pass to Craig Chambers for UW, a 19-yard run by Harrison for the Cougars.
Washington reclaimed the lead 10 seconds into the fourth quarter on a 3-yard run by James Sims to make it 22-19.
But the Huskies couldn't put the game away. And given one last shot, the Cougars finally came through.
"We finally made the big play when we had to make a big play," WSU coach Bill Doba said.
Washington had one last possession, but it fizzled quickly with a Stanback sack and three incompletions.
The Cougars, who hadn't won at Husky Stadium since 1997, ran to midfield and began a celebration with their fans. Several Huskies players tried to disrupt it, notably senior defensive tackle Manase Hopoi.
Willingham dashed into the fray to break it up and said later that no matter what the Cougars had done, his players were out of line. Doba later apologized, saying, "That will never happen again."
Still, the celebration figures to linger in the minds of the Huskies until the two teams meet again next year in Pullman.
"I'm sure everyone will remember it," Fountaine said. "I'm sure of it."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com
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