It wasn't perfect, and the weather was an interesting challenge, but Gaskin and Jake Browning took care of business in the Apple Cup for the fourth consecutive time.
Jake Browning was not the designated folk hero entering this Apple Cup, not the national darling who had ballads written about him and fake mustaches in his image pasted on just about every face — male and female — in the Palouse.
That was Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew, who earned all his accolades honestly with a heartwarming backstory and a season worthy of Heisman consideration.
Myles Gaskin’s brilliance, meanwhile, has been so consistent, so reliable, that it has almost — but not quite — come to be taken for granted. Though never by the Huskies, who have felt keenly this year what life is like without Gaskin at full strength.
On Friday, under brutal conditions, it was Browning, Gaskin and the Huskies emerging from the Apple Cup as the victor, which has become something of an annual tradition.
No quarterback on either side of this 111-year-old rivalry had ever won four straight Apple Cups — not until Browning accomplished that feat with the Huskies’ 28-15 victory at Martin Stadium. No running back in Pac-12 history has ever rushed for 1,000 yards four seasons in a row — not until Gaskin went over that benchmark on a stunning 80-yard run in the fourth quarter that sealed the Husky victory.
“It always sucks to lose to the Cougs … I’ve heard,’’ Browning said with the impeccable timing of, oh, his sensational 48-yard strike to Andre Baccellia that set up the Huskies’ first score. “I’m glad I don’t have to experience it.”
Gaskin finished with 170 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries, giving him 550 yards and 10 touchdowns in his four games against the Cougs. Asked where the 80-yard run ranked in the pantheon of Gaskin’s greatest hits, Browning replied, “That ranks as No. 1 now because it just happened. It’s pretty hard to keep track of all the great plays after four years.”
Neither snow nor rain or gloom of night could keep Washington from its appointed rounds: Beating the Cougars in the Apple Cup. This was the Huskies’ sixth straight triumph, giving Chris Petersen his fifth straight Apple Cup without a blemish. It was the fourth in a row for Browning, Gaskin and the rest of the seniors, and the Huskies celebrated with a cathartic release of emotions when time expired.
Browning raised his arms in triumph. Tackle Kaleb McGary and tight end Drew Sample made snow angels — massive snow angels — before Sample lifted up Gaskin off the ground for a heartfelt hug. Before long, a snowball fight broke out near the end zone as some players slid along the ground like a bunch of grade-school kids on a snow day.
That was all sandwiched around the presentation of the Apple Cup and a hearty rendition of “Bow Down to Washington” by players and Husky fans. Earlier in the day, Washington State’s band had played that same song — which they hastily learned in the morning — in a heartwarming display of sportsmanship and kinship after the Husky band was unable to attend because of Thursday’s bus accident.
This game was not as lopsided or worry-free for the Huskies as recent ones against Washington State, but the statistics show their undeniable dominance. They outgained WSU, 487 to 237, and held Minshew far below his average, a season-low 152 passing yards with two interceptions. Tellingly, the Huskies outgained WSU 258-85 on the ground, which was vital under the at-times treacherous conditions.
“I’m from California. This is not Sacramento weather,’’ Browning said. “I think it made it hard, but we were able to run the ball and they weren’t. That was the big difference, and that’s a tribute to Myles Gaskin and Salvon (Ahmed) and O-line and tight ends and our receivers. Basically everyone but me. All I did was hand the ball off.”
Browning has been criticized, questioned, doubted and maligned to a degree far out of proportion to his remarkable success as the Huskies’ quarterback. And he provided some cause for more wincing on Friday — an interception in the end zone after the Huskies had driven all the way to the WSU 11 on their first possession, and a fumble on a sack in the second half.
But history will treat him kindly, and so will the recounts of this game. Browning had numerous moments of brilliance — particularly the long pass to Baccellia that was as pretty as any ball he’s ever thrown, and a 59-yard connection to tight end Hunter Bryant on 3rd and 16 that set up another score on a double-pass from Aaron Fuller to Bryant.
And history will gush over Gaskin, who has earned a special chapter in Apple Cup lore.
“I’m super-thankful,’’ Gaskin said to a trail of reporters as he jogged off the field. “I’m thankful to the O-line for always doing it, thankful to Coach Pete and his program, thankful for my parents. It took a village.”
Asked to put into words this fourth straight Apple Cup victory, Gaskin exclaimed, “We balled out!” before letting out a primal scream and sprinting away from the scrum, headed to the jubilant locker room.
The game, played in a picturesque but unwieldy snow flurry, came close to living up to the hype. It was tense until the end, though the Cougars could never get the breakthrough they needed. Both teams had immense motivation — a Pac-12 North title and berth in the Pac-12 title game the prize for the winner, with the added bonus for Washington State of keeping alive its hopes of making the national playoffs.
Those hopes are now dashed, while Washington, in a season that has been marked by disappointments and blemishes, suddenly has a vast and prestigious prize squarely in its sights: Its first Rose Bowl appearance since Jan. 1, 2001. That would now be theirs with a win next Friday over Utah in the Pac-12 title game. It’s vindication, perhaps, but Browning has never gone down that road.
“I don’t really care what everyone thought when we lost, and I don’t really care what everyone thinks when we won,” Browning said. “I’m happy for this team, happy to get back to Santa Clara and play in the Pac-12 championship.”
As Browning spoke on the field, bedlam was breaking out all around as the Huskies savored the special satisfaction of celebrating the Apple Cup on enemy turf.
“It’s pretty sweet,’’ Browning admitted. “I don’t want to say anything about it, but it’s nice.”