So this is how an era of Washington football ends.
With WSU running back Max Borghi spinning off an Asa Turner tackle attempt at the 11-yard line and diving across the goal line for a 32-yard touchdown on the game’s opening drive — fitting foreshadowing for the coming catastrophe.
With WSU outgaining UW 454-200 in a comprehensively one-sided in-state incineration.
With Cougars quarterback Jayden de Laura completing an astounding 27 of 32 passes (84.4%) for 245 yards, decimating a UW pass defense that entered the game ranked first in the nation.
With UW freshman quarterback Sam Huard throwing four critical interceptions in his first career start — the last of which clattered off of tight end Devin Culp’s hands, before being returned by Armani Marsh for a 28-yard touchdown.
With freshman cornerback Davon Banks laying on his stomach on the edge of the end zone, hands on his helmet, after failing to down a Race Porter punt at the 1-yard line.
With defensive coordinators-turned-interim head coaches improbably manning each sideline — and one possibly doing enough to earn the permanent position.
With Coug fans cascading over the barriers inside their rival’s stadium, celebrating a 40-13 Washington State win that snapped a seven-game Apple Cup losing streak. With de Laura waving an oversized crimson Cougs flag in the middle of the madness, planting it dramatically in the Husky Stadium turf.
With Washington wide receiver Ja’Lynn Polk crouching helplessly on the goal line, silently watching Coug fans climb on each other’s shoulders and blot out the purple “W” painted on the field.
With the Apple Cup trophy traveling east for the first time since 2012.
“It definitely sucks,” said UW running back Sean McGrew, who gained 13 yards while playing through hand surgery and a high ankle sprain. “I’ve never lost to them until tonight. And it being the last game, obviously you want to go out with a W and keep that trophy here, because that’s where it belongs.
“But I guess it’s just a crazy season, and it would have been nice to end on a positive note. But (expletive) happens, and we can’t change it now.”
Indeed, a whole lot of (expletive) happened inside Husky Stadium this season.
But while WSU led 13-7 at halftime, it could have — should have? — been much worse. UW turned in a pair of goal-line stands to momentarily manage the bleeding. With a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter, the Cougars faced second-and-goal from the 6-yard line — before a delay-of-game penalty, an incompletion and a Deon McIntosh run that outside linebacker Bralen Trice stuffed for a 3-yard loss abruptly ended the drive.
Midway through the second quarter, WSU again stalled just short of the goal line — denied on consecutive Borghi running plays after lining up on second-and-goal from the 1. Dean Janikowski converted a pair of chip-shot field goals to extend the WSU lead to 13-0.
Washington didn’t earn its first first down until the 4:33 mark of the second quarter — when sixth-year senior running back Kamari Pleasant plunged forward for a 4-yard gain on fourth-and-1 from his 49-yard line. Two plays later, Huard located Polk with a floater along the sideline for a 29-yard gain, and Pleasant cashed in with a diving 10-yard score. Huard also hit wide receiver Rome Odunze for a one-handed 16-yard score — the freshman quarterback’s first career touchdown — with 11:55 left in the fourth quarter.
But that was a rare positive in Huard’s otherwise inauspicious starting debut. The former five-star recruit — whose 13,214 high-school passing yards are the most in the history of the state — completed just 17 of 31 passes for 190 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions, sputtering and struggling in his first Apple Cup. Trailing 23-7 late in the third quarter, he hit Odunze with a looping liner for a 55-yard gain … before immediately staring down an interception that linebacker Justus Rogers returned 60 yards.
It was that kind of night.
And that kind of season.
“I think he showed some flashes,” UW interim head coach Bob Gregory said. “The four turnovers kill you. They weren’t all his fault by any means. I hope Husky Nation can see this guy’s got a very bright future for them. I think you’re in good hands.”
Added McGrew: “Obviously it’s just something he’s going to learn from. I don’t think it’s going to affect him like he’s never going to come back from it. I think he’s going to come back 1,000 times stronger, and I don’t think he’s ever going to lose another Apple Cup. I think this is going to be his first and only Apple Cup loss.
“For him to come in as a freshman in the middle of a chaotic season and come in and try to win a game, it’s definitely tough. But that dude’s a baller, and he’s going to be a baller. I’m excited for his future.”
UW’s future had better be brighter than its immediate past. The 2021 season started with a No. 20 national ranking, promptly followed by a home loss to FCS Montana. It featured the firings of head coach Jimmy Lake and offensive coordinator John Donovan, a sideline altercation that earned Lake a one-game suspension and five losses in one-score games.
It ended with four consecutive defeats, a coaching search, its largest Apple Cup loss in 114 meetings and a December devoid of postseason play.
It ended with Washington State wide receiver Travell Harris holding a crimson flag behind his head like a cape, running circles around the turf inside Husky Stadium. With WSU fans flooding onto the field, while four words — “THANK YOU DAWG FANS” — provided unintended irony on the video board.
With a 4-8 record that felt even worse.
With few words and fewer answers.
“The words I want to use I’m not allowed to say,” McGrew said, when asked to describe his sixth and final season in Seattle. “But I’ll say just chaos. I was not really expecting the games to turn out and the season to turn out the way it did whatsoever. We had high expectations for ourselves, and we came up short on about all of them.”