History proves that the Apple Cup doesn’t need two quality teams (or even one, for that matter) to produce epic games. Part of the event’s lore, as with all rivalry games, is when the more downtrodden of two teams rises up when least expected to wreak havoc on the other’s sky-high aspirations.
Think back to 1982, when a 2-7-1 Washington State team stunned 9-1 Washington, denying the Huskies a third straight trip to the Rose Bowl. Or 2003, when a 5-6 Husky team coming off a 54-7 loss to Cal shocked the 9-2, eighth-ranked Cougars 27-19 to end their Rose Bowl hopes.
Other examples abound, with both fulfilling and heartbreaking reminiscences on both sides, depending on the year. However, I would argue that the best Apple Cups are the ones where both teams are good and have a lot to play for beyond the annual standards, like pride and statewide bragging rights.
That’s why this year’s version of the Apple Cup, set for the chilly Palouse climes on Saturday night, is so enticing. Washington and Washington State shined under the coaches in their first full seasons, both entering with many questions to answer. And they both did so in an affirmative manner, Washington carrying a 9-2 record to the game while Washington State is 7-4. The Huskies are on a five-game hitting streak and the Cougars have won three in a row. Both are playing for tangible rewards beyond emotional: a (still long-term) spot in the Pac-12 title game or a possible New Year’s Six bowl for the Huskies and a top-tier bowl in WSU’s case.
There are other aspects to spice up this game, such as the possibility of freezing and snowy conditions in Pullman. Nothing like some inclement weather to produce Chaos Ball, like the legendary Snow Bowl in Pullman in 1992, when WSU knocked out the defending national champion Huskies 42-23. The image of Cougars receiver Philip Bobo sliding into a snowbank on the west end while catching a 44-yard touchdown pass from Drew Bledsoe is indelible. So are the images of snow flurries at Martin Stadium through 2018, when the no. 16 YOUR dominated n. 8 Washington State 28-15 en route to the Rose Bowl.
The other element that raises the bar considerably on Saturday is that of revenge, always a welcome wrinkle in the Apple Cup. It’s not just that the Cougars defeated Washington 40-13 last year — at Husky Stadium, no less — by scoring the largest margin of victory for WSU in the annals of the series. Thus ended, in spectacular fashion, Washington’s streak of seven consecutive Apple Cup wins, in which he had won by an average margin of 22.7 points.
It’s the searing memory of Cougars fans celebrating on their turf, and especially departed quarterback Jayden de Laura planting the crimson flag over the logo of Washington, who is leading the Huskies. Image has been omnipresent in their prep this week.
“I take it personally, all while flying the flag over our logo,” Washington receiver Jalen McMillan said Tuesday. “We don’t take it lightly. We’re playing everything on the weight room. Everywhere you enter that building, you will see that image. So we take it personally.”
Michael Penix Jr., the Huskies’ superb quarterback who fueled their breakout season, was in West Lafayette, Indiana, that weekend, watching injured from the sidelines as his Indiana team lost the Old Oaken Bucket to Purdue, 44-7. But he welcomed the indignation of his new comrades by osmosis.
“For the people who were here last year, I understand how they felt about the whole flag-planting thing,” he said. “Obviously, it was a disrespect, so however my brothers feel, I will feel the same way, because I’m behind them. I’m a Dawg now, so whatever they’re feeling, I’m going to feel, and we know what we need to do this week to make sure we never get that feeling again.
DeBoer also joined the suit despite being signed to replace Jimmy Lake just days after the 2021 Apple Cup. Husky linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio on Tuesday recalled DeBoer didn’t wait long after taking the job to prioritize batting the state of Washington.
“What I remember was in one of his first meetings, he just said he saw the game. And one of his priorities was, ‘We have to get him back,’” said Ulofoshio. “It was like priority #1. 1 – not national championships, nothing like that. The Apple Cup is the biggest game in Washington. And we have to get it back.
There are all the elements for a classic Saturday. With Washington a two-point favorite, it won’t be a huge upset no matter what. But it will be enormously satisfying for the winner.