With half-naked WSU frat boys weathering the frigid Palouse winds Saturday night, clothed only with painted letters misspelling whatever it was they were trying to spell, the highly anticipated Cougar vs. Husky “Apple Cup” sputtered along like a 1962 Ford Fairlane with a blown head gasket.
Most fans in the Northwest appreciated that this year’s “Apple Cup” had little BCS national championship implications, but we’d all agree that hiring 90-year-olds from the Happy Valley Retirement Villa of Colfax to officiate the game is not the way to go.
Yes, we understand that times are tough and expenses must be cut, but it was a bit much to expect fans with frostbite to put up with a 15-minute referee powwow with 29 seconds left in the game.
The Cougars were clad in all red (or crimson, as the local designers like to call it), with silver helmets and that ugly script Cougar thing that looks like it was written while driving impaired on the back of a motorcycle.
Meanwhile, the Huskies showed up commiserating the commission of the Colorado Buffalos in next year’s Pac-12, wearing the traditional Buffalo visiting uniforms of black pants and white shirts.
The game started as winds whirled above the heads of some students who had claimed their seats nearly eight hours earlier. (Don’t ask. This is WSU. Why would students feel the need to, you know, study or do homework?)
The highlight of the afternoon was when one unnamed Cougar spilled his contraband and thereby froze 17 students to the metal bench for six hours, which explains why some WSU students refused to stand for the traditional kickoff ceremony.
The Huskies’ Eric Folk ripped a kick 68 yards to start the game, which Isiah Barton of the Cougars returned a squat 15 yards. WSU consumed the first four minutes going 34 yards before punting back. The drive was highlighted by three penalties, including the first of 116 personal fouls that would be flagged against the fired-up Huskies, obviously in dire need of “doggie-downers.”
Crack Comcast-owned “Vs.” network TV announcers reminded fans at home that if the Huskies won this game, they would be rewarded with a bowl game that the once proud program would have scoffed at a decade earlier.
The Huskies answered with a nice 16-play drive that consumed over eight minutes for a touchdown after a number of great short runs up the middle by Chris Polk and passes by Jake Locker.
The Cougars, after receiving a 15-yard gift from our referee pals, went three and out to end the first quarter, and then the two teams traded a couple of punts before the Huskies finally took a two-touchdown lead when Kiel Rasp hit Jermaine Kearse for 30 yards, finished by a Locker keeper with seven minutes left in the half.
WSU again went three and out, and the Huskies put together another nifty seven-play drive for 63 yards before Locker, feeling quite charitable to his Cougar brethren during this Christmas season, threw an errant pass in the end zone missing his wide-open pal, which Deone Bucannon of WSU intercepted for a touchback.
Meanwhile, the Husky defense, at this point buying into Locker’s charity scheme, put up possibly the worst defense of the season as the Cougars’ Jeff Tuel hit wide-open receivers four times on a seven-play drive, finishing with a TD pass to Jared Karstetter across the middle.
A key point in the game, because what could have been a laugher to end the half had been transformed to a tight fistfight on this 14-point turn of events to end the half.
Clearly coach Steve Sarkisian pistol-whipped the guilty at halftime, because the Huskies immediately came out thawed and scored a quick TD on a three-play drive for 80 yards and a Husky TD, when Locker hit a streaking Kearse down the right sideline for 66 yards.
The Huskies now enjoyed a 21-7 lead just under a minute-and-a-half into the second half, and the two teams exchanged punts before the Cougars answered with their own TD drive on nine plays. Tuel hit Daniel Blackledge for 20 and 14 yards to drive it home.
The two teams exchanged punts to end the third quarter with the Huskies leading 21-14, and with Washington driving to the red zone, Locker fumbled, which Kevin Kooyman scooped up at his own 12-yard line and returned 37 yards to midfield. Again, the Cougars had been saved from a Husky rout by a turnover.
But the Huskies, stung to fury over the agonizing events, held the Cougars on four plays and got the ball back on downs, when Tuel was snuffed trying to run a sneak on a fourth and inches on the Husky 43-yard line. On the next play, Chris Polk broke through on the right side and rambled for 57 yards and a TD, and the Huskies had a surprising 28-14 lead just like that.
Fan riots, looting and grinding of gnashed teeth could be heard on the sidelines as purple-clad jokesters mouthed off to shivering Cougar fans, in no mood for such fool-hearted shenanigans given that not only were they flunking their courses for this debauchery, but now they had to listen to Husky knuckleheads who apparently had forgotten that they still had to drive 12 hours on narrow snow-clad roads to get home.
But the Cougars had not given up and thus spent the next 4:32 putting together a clutch 10-play drive, going 70 yards for a touchdown to bring the score to a more respectable 28-21 with just under nine minutes left in the game. After the Huskies choked with an unimpressive five-play stinker, the Cougars were once again marching back up the field.
Clearly the shipment of Oregon Duck “magic pills” failed to arrive, because the Huskies than gave up another touchdown to a rejuvenated Cougar team on a drive of six plays, going 73 yards in just under three minutes to tie the score at 28-28.
Husky fans across the state were aghast, when moments earlier they had been skipping merrily on the hearts of the Cougar faithful with a two-touchdown lead. Now it was tied, and Jake Locker would have to perform one of those drives that he’d only managed to do a couple times all season.
But drive he did, and the Huskies answered with a time-killing nine-play drive highlighted by six Polk runs. The Huskies went 88 yards before Locker again hit Kearse for 27 yards and a game-winning touchdown to take a 35-28 lead with a scant 44 seconds left in the game.
The Cougars managed a completed pass play, and as Husky fans irritated the Cougar masses in Pullman with obnoxious celebrations and mouthing off, our Social Security pals on the field embarked on one of the most puzzling and embarrassing spectacles in Pac-10 history.
They huddled and changed their minds half a dozen times, including mis-marking the ball placement, awarding a false first down and finally getting it right while both Cougar and Husky fans watched the confusion in amazement.
Those fortunate enough to be watching from comfy warm parties across the state were cranky enough, but by the time the referees finally got their act together, frozen water bottles and illegal matter could be seen whizzing by the heads of six aged guys who clearly didn’t know the difference.
The game was finally put to rest when all-world Husky senior Mason Foster sacked Tuel with Nick Wood’s help, and after another punishing hit, Tuel’s concussion-influenced "Hail Mary" was intercepted by a joyous Nate Fellner at the Husky 5-yard line.
Husky sophomore Chris Polk finished the game with a career-best 284 yards on 29 carries, with his game total only trailing Hugh McElhenny’s 296 yards over half a century earlier against the same team.
So the Huskies are on their way to play the Nebraska Cornhuskers at the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on December 29th, determined to settle the score on the early-season mutilation that Nebraska put on them at Husky Stadium.
Meanwhile, the Cougars are happy to just get this season over with, and coach Paul Wulff’s job may have been saved with WSU's gritty performance in spite of this season’s 2-10 record.
Clearly the Cougars are a much-improved team compared to when the season opened, and with a new class of Wulff recruits, next year’s Apple Cup may be noticed by more than just those needing an excuse for a house party on a cold December afternoon!