Jacob Eason needed just a yard. He got much more than that.
With 3:53 remaining in the first quarter of the 112th Apple Cup on Friday, Washington’s 6-foot-6, 227-pound quarterback huddled under center at the Cougar 3-yard line. On third-and-one, he took a snap, lowered his shoulder and burrowed to purple turf. His offensive line pulverized an overmatched enemy front, and Eason tumbled 3 yards deep in the end zone.
This was a literal and figurative breakthrough for the sputtering home state signal caller. It was therapy disguised as a quarterback sneak — an adrenaline-pumping catharsis. After tunneling through a sewer of foul-smelling disappointments against Utah, Oregon State and Colorado, this was a desperate patch of daylight. Eason finally emerged on the other side.
“This game, we talked about it all week: it just means more,” Eason said. “Going into the stadium, the energy was high. Apple Cup Week, getting into that end zone was just … a lot of (expletive) coming together. And it was awesome.”
Before pulling himself out of the mosh pit, Eason ripped off his golden helmet. He rose to his feet and released a guttural growl, all while keeping the football clutched tight against his chest.
In a 31-13 Apple Cup victory over Washington State, these Huskies brought both bark and bite.
That started, of course, with Washington’s redshirt junior quarterback. In his first Apple Cup as the Husky starter, Eason completed 15 of 22 passes, throwing for 244 yards and accounting for two touchdowns. For the first time in his past four games, he did not produce a turnover. Instead, he dropped an effortless rainbow to wide receiver Terrell Bynum for a 57-yard gain in the first quarter. He found Bynum again later in the first half for a 16-yard touchdown, the first of Bynum’s UW career. He willed his way into the end zone for the aforementioned 3-yard sneak-and-score.
After watching the snowy classic last season from the sideline, he set the physical and emotional tone.
“All my friends are Cougs from high school, and I’ve got my Husky family here,” Eason explained. “So it’s super awesome to be a part of this and be a part of this team and get a win in the Apple Cup.”
But, when it came to game-changing plays, Eason wasn’t alone. Freshman cornerback Trent McDuffie forced a pair of fourth-quarter turnovers. The first came on the Husky 9-yard line, when McDuffie demolished WSU running back Deon McIntosh and simultaneously dislodged the football. If the play had not been blown dead, UW senior safety Myles Bryant would have undoubtedly returned it for an untouched touchdown.
On the following drive, McDuffie struck again. Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon sailed a sidearm pass intended for wide receiver Davontavean Martin, and McDuffie leaped to intercept it and return it 29 yards to the Cougar 40-yard line. After being tackled, McDuffie kept right on running 40 yards into the end zone.
Technically, he didn’t score. But perhaps he provided a spoiler.
“We’ve been saying it all along: the kid is as solid as a rock, as a person,” UW head coach Chris Petersen said of McDuffie, who has piled up three fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and an interception in his freshman season. “The moment is never too big.
“He’s a heck of a player, and he’s only going to get better.”
That could also apply to several of UW’s other defensive stalwarts. The Huskies sacked Gordon five times. Outside linebacker Joe Tryon got to him twice, while Ryan Bowman and Edefuan Ulofoshio added 1½ sacks apiece. Washington racked up eight tackles for loss in the victory.
This was a Cougar offense, by the way, that entered the game allowing an average of 1.18 sacks a game — tied for first in the Pac-12 and 10th nationally.
The Huskies shouldn’t have gotten home … but they did, and the Cougars never recovered.
“We had three d-linemen and they had five offensive linemen, so … I mean, if you think about it, we shouldn’t be getting the pressure we did,” said Tryon, who finished with four tackles, 2½ tackles for loss and two sacks. “But we put the work in this week and worked as a unit, and did what we did.”
Washington’s offense didn’t do much on the ground, finishing with just 98 rushing yards and 3.4 yards a carry. But redshirt freshman running back and certified red-zone specialist Richard Newton excelled again in that role, plunging into the end zone from 1 and 2 yards out.
Of course, Washington State’s Air Raid offense could not be completely silenced. Gordon completed 48 of 62 passes for 308 yards with zero touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. Sophomore running back Max Borghi — who predicted that “I will be scoring … a lot” — compiled 50 rushing yards, a rushing touchdown and 12 catches for 58 yards.
But it wasn’t enough. For seven consecutive seasons, and 10 of the past 11, it hasn’t been enough. And when it ended, Eason was one of the last ones off the field. He walked toward the northwest tunnel with the Apple Cup trophy in both hands, lifting it above his head while wearing a purple beanie and a growing grin. He high-fived fans with his right hand while shifting the trophy to his left. They chanted, “Eas-on! Eas-on!”, but the former Lake Stevens High School standout didn’t stop. He lifted the trophy even higher and disappeared into the Husky Stadium tunnel. He saluted the Seattle faithful.
Perhaps for the final time.