It seemed to come out of nowhere, which was only one of the elements that made Washington State’s Apple Cup triumph of 2012 so remarkable.
A year later, the victory — the biggest comeback in the history of the series — resonates still, especially with WSU players who were in their last game as collegians.
“It was probably my fondest memory of my time at Washington State,” said quarterback Jeff Tuel recently. “Probably the ‘funnest’ I’ve ever played in.”
So much about it was improbable, starting with the fact the Cougars were down 28-10 early in the fourth quarter. They had lost eight straight games, and there were some torn sentiments over the dismissal of star receiver Marquess Wilson.
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It’s not a stretch to suggest that WSU seemed fated to win, as it authored a couple of unlikely plays, benefited from nine UW penalties in the final 16 minutes, and was the beneficiary of a missed field goal that would have rescued the game in regulation for Washington.
“There were a lot of huge plays that happened in that game that were just meant to be for us that day,” said receiver Gino Simone, who like Tuel was a senior.
It was three games in one. The Cougars, 2-9 entering the game, outplayed Washington in the first half and had a 10-7 lead at intermission. Then WSU had a nightmare third quarter, committing three turnovers, including two fumbles that the Huskies recovered inside the Cougar 20 to score three touchdowns for a 28-10 lead.
“The third quarter was ugly for us,” said Tuel, now a rookie with the Buffalo Bills. “But we just kept believing, kept chopping wood.”
Then it got really crazy. When WSU finished a drive for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, it seemed to be mere window-dressing.
But Washington committed a turnover, and with 9:01 left, the Cougars tightened the screws. At the eight-minute mark, Tuel dropped back to pass, lurched crazily off-balance and seemed to be dead meat in the pocket, but gathered himself to fling a 29-yard pass to Isiah Myers.
Andrew Hudson was flagged for an illegal hit on Tuel, making it a 44-yard play that set WSU up at the UW 9. The Cougars took it in, made a two-point conversion and suddenly it was a 28-25 game.
“I was just trying to make a play,” Tuel said of the Myers reception. “I kind of ran around. It wasn’t anything planned.”
The Cougars had more hijinks in store. Less than five minutes remained when they faced a third-and-six at their 34. Tuel fired over the middle for Simone, but Husky linebacker John Timu was directly in front of Simone, close enough to touch each other.
Somehow, the pass whistled through Timu’s hands. Somehow, Simone caught it. He turned upfield and gained 18 precious yards.
“I just tried to rifle it as hard as I could to Gino’s shoulder,” said Tuel. “The linebacker was definitely in great position to pick it off. Gino obviously made a hell of a catch. It was a better catch than it was a throw, for sure.”
Said Simone: “I see Jeff winding up, and I think, ‘No way he’s throwing it to me.’ ”
Shortly, the Cougars faced fourth-and-one at the UW 28 with two minutes left. The percentage play seemed to be: Go for it, with the hope of finishing a touchdown drive that would consume the rest of the clock.
But coach Mike Leach opted for a tenuous field goal, Andrew Furney banged it through, and the score was tied.
“I wasn’t going in telling myself, ‘If I miss, we’re going to lose,’ ” Furney recalls. “But I said, ‘I have to make this.’ ”
The Huskies drove and had a chance to win it on the last play of regulation. Travis Coons sized up a 35-yard field goal and hit it. On the UW sideline, offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto flung up his arms in a “good” sign.
Still, the signature play of the ’12 Apple Cup hadn’t happened. On the Huskies’ first possession in overtime, Logan Mayes rushed Keith Price into an ill-advised throw that was picked off by lineman Toni Pole, who hauled it all the way to the UW 5 before he was overtaken by Huskies receiver Cody Bruns, momentarily saving Washington’s bacon.
Furney was true from 27 yards to end it, 31-28.
“It made all the tough times worth it in one moment,” said Simone.
Among the improbabilities, Huskies cornerback Desmond Trufant, who would become an NFL first-round draft pick, was flagged for two pass-interference penalties in the final quarter. That gave bragging rights to an old friend from Tacoma’s Wilson High, WSU defensive lineman Xavier Cooper.
“When Furney made that (winning) field goal, I just got this shock through my body,” said Cooper, relishing the memory. “I told my boy Des, ‘I’m one up on you.’ ”
It remained for crimson-clad fans to rush the field deliriously. And for a lot of them, to rush the local watering holes.
“We celebrated,” said Tuel, “in Cougar fashion.”
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com