The anticipated Apple Cup to end all Apple Cups turned instead into another Washington memorandum of superiority over its archrival.
PULLMAN – All week, Washington safety Budda Baker said, the Huskies kept their energy bottled in, by intention. They didn’t want the Apple Cup to be about woofing and posturing, as tempting as it was to indulge in trash talk.
“The mood for us was just cage it in,’’ he said. “Don’t really talk. Don’t read all that social media, the Twitter stuff. Don’t say anything, just cage it in, and let it go when the game starts.”
But when the game ended, and the final seconds of Washington’s unambiguous 45-17 win over Washington State ticked down, the Huskies allowed themselves to be uncaged. They danced and frolicked on the sidelines before rushing en masse onto the field, a picture of unfettered jubilation.
The anticipated Apple Cup to end all Apple Cups turned instead into another Washington memorandum of superiority over its archrival. And it segued into an emphatic statement to the College Football Playoff committee as it nears a final decision on Washington’s Final Four fate.
There was no longer any possible debate about who is the better team, though that had been an open question going in. The Huskies claimed all the trappings of victory, from statewide bragging rights to the Pac-12 North title and a berth in next Friday’s Pac-12 title game in Santa Clara, Calif.
Washington has now won four straight Apple Cups, including three under coach Chris Petersen by a combined 121-40 margin. Defensive back Kevin King said that whatever bluster the Cougars displayed at the outset, it dissipated quickly as the Huskies took control of the game.
“Early in the game, it was 21-3, so they couldn’t really talk too much smack,’’ King said. “They got their yapping in, they tried, but it’s hard when you’re down like that.”
It wasn’t just that the Huskies jumped ahead so decisively, nor that they turned back every desperate Washington State attempt to get back into the game. What most pleased Petersen is that when the game turned into a physical referendum, when the Cougars were twice poised on the brink of potential momentum-turning touchdowns, it was Washington that thumped the hardest at the goal line.
“It was physical. I mean, you could hear it from the sideline,’’ Petersen said. “It was awesome.”
In the second quarter, with the Huskies still in their sights, Washington State had first-and-goal from the 6, and fourth-and-goal from the 2. Washington held on four running plays. And in the third quarter, with one last gasp of hope remaining for the Cougars in a 35-17 game, they had first-and-goal from the 4, and fourth-and-goal from the 1. Again, the Huskies kept them out of the end zone, stymying three runs and a pass.
“That’s like an energy bus,’’ Washington wide receiver John Ross said. “Those guys got us going.”
“That gave us so much confidence,’’ added wide receiver Dante Pettis.
The boost for the Huskies was palpable. The drain for the Cougars was immeasurable. Those goal-line stands, plus another WSU drive deep into Husky territory that ended with a Luke Falk interception from the Washington 9 just before halftime, were essentially the ballgame.
“We love that. We love that type of stuff as a defense,’’ Baker said.
Washington State wide receiver Gabe Marks would say after the game, repeatedly, that the Cougars were “soft.” Many Husky players said they detected an undeniable reticence from Washington State players, particularly after a vicious hit by freshman Taylor Rapp that separated the ball from Cougar running back Jamal Morrow in the first quarter.
“After the first few hits, you saw a lot of dropped balls and that type of stuff,’’ Baker said.
“Oh, yeah, definitely,’’ agreed King. “I saw a few times, a few dropped balls because their eyes were peeking too early. That’s all the result of watching film. They see us flying around on film, and when you got guys flying around like that, it’s real easy to take your eyes off the ball and look at the defenders.”
The word King employed, almost gleefully, was “relent,’’ which is a damning phrase when used to characterize an opponent’s will.
“I saw them relent a few times,’’ he said. “That’s a good feeling when you know you’ve got the best of them.”
For the Huskies, Jake Browning was an efficiency machine, completing 21 of 29 passes for 292 yards – 202 of those in the first quarter – and three touchdowns. Petersen pulled out his usual razzle dazzle, most effectively on a 50-yard double pass from Pettis to Darrell Daniels that set up Washington’s first touchdown.
The Huskies’ offense barely got on the field in the third quarter, but when the Cougars’ long, sustained drive came up empty, even that turned into an unexpected boon for the Huskies.
“They were eating up the clock, but they weren’t scoring at that point,’’ Pettis said. “If was like, if they want to eat up the clock like that, go for it.’’
Pettis also caught two touchdown passes, and after the game he and Ross — who hauled in a TD pass himself — met the media wearing matching sunglasses that made them appear as if they were channeling the Blues Brothers.
Ross explained that the sunglasses had fallen out of his backpack after the game, and he decided on a whim it would be fun for those two to wear them to the Apple Cup trophy presentation.
“It’s something we’ve always wanted to do,’’ Ross said, before hastening to add, “We’re not trying to be cocky or look like we’re better than anyone else. We’re kids. That’s all it is.”
“We have fun on the field, and after,’’ Pettis chimed in.
Petersen, however, has a limit on the amount of celebration allowed, because he’s always looking at the bigger picture. In this case, it is next Friday’s Pac-12 title game for the Huskies against either USC or Colorado. If they win that, the Huskies, at 12-1, would be well-positioned to be one of four teams in the playoffs for the national title.
“I think it’s good,’’ Petersen said of Friday’s victory, “but I think we have a lot more ball to play. This thing is always about how you finish.’’
On Friday, the Huskies started, and finished, with a flourish.