After a season of failing to meet expectations and negative attention, the Cougars finally got the kind of celebration they expected to be common when Leach was hired a year ago.
“I was kind of amazed how quick all those fans got out there on the field,” Leach said. “Sometimes it takes them a little while. It didn’t take them very long.”
Andrew Furney kicked a 27-yard field goal on Washington State’s first possession of overtime, and the Cougars overcame an 18-point deficit in the fourth quarter to stun rival Washington 31-28 in the Apple Cup on Friday, snapping an eight-game losing streak.
It was the largest comeback ever in the 105 meetings between the schools and a bright moment in an otherwise dark season on the Palouse. Leach was supposed to take Washington State to a bowl game because that was all he ever did at Texas Tech. The Cougars were going to be the talk of the Pac-12 because of their high-flying passing game, bringing excitement back to a program with little of that for much of the last decade.
Instead, the Cougars wallowed through eight straight losses, some competitive, some embarrassing, coupled with off-field issues that included claims of abuse by coaches from former star wide receiver Marquess Wilson.
In the early evening darkness, as Martin Stadium was blanketed with crimson and gray fans and school president Elson Floyd on a podium at midfield addressed the crowd with the Apple Cup trophy back in hand, none of that matter.
“We kicked the Huskies out of the place,” Floyd screamed over the speaker system.
Washington State played with intensity and a chip. They especially wanted to give injured defensive end Travis Long a chance to hold the Apple Cup trophy after he missed Friday’s game, the first game missed in his entire college career.
Long limped out on crutches before the game to be honored with the rest of the seniors. He concluded his last game at Washington State holding the trophy in the locker room.
In a rivalry known for unpredictability, the 2012 version will rank among the tops in Apple Cup lore. Washington led 28-10 after Bishop Sankey’s second touchdown run late in the third quarter, but the Huskies wilted under self-inflicted turnovers and penalties coming back in favor of the Cougars.
Washington (7-5, 5-4) had a chance to win on the final play of regulation, but Travis Coons’ 35-yard field goal attempt was wide right after a bad snap.
Then on the first play of overtime, Washington quarterback Keith Price threw an interception that defensive lineman Kalafitoni Pole nearly returned for a game-ending touchdown, only to be caught at the 5.
The Cougars (3-9, 1-8 Pac-12) took possession and, after picking up a first down on a throw from Jeff Tuel to Brett Bartolone, Furney kicked a 27-yard field goal, leading to a crush of crimson and gray fans storming.
It was Washington State’s first win over its rivals since 2008.
“We were supposed to win this game. It just came together and the way it came together, it was meant to be,” Furney said.
The Cougars were the opposite of their trends for most of the season. They jumped ahead for the first time in nearly a month and led 10-7 at halftime, their first lead at the break since blowing a late lead to Colorado in September.
Then came a series of third-quarter mistakes by the Cougars that led to 21 points by the Huskies. Price hit Cody Bruns on a 15-yard touchdown and Sankey’s two TD runs gave Washington what seemed an insurmountable lead.
The Cougars responded.
Carl Winston ran for three touchdowns for Washington State, matching the Cougars entire season total of touchdowns rushing entering Friday’s game. His third TD with 7:26 left, combined with Tuel’s 2-point conversion pass to Bartolone pulled the Cougars within 28-25.
Washington was forced to punt with 5:25 left after Price was forced to throw it away on third down. Tuel hit Gino Simone for 18 yards, his first catch of the game, to get into Washington territory and later a 9-yard reception to get inside the Huskies 30. The Cougars stalled after missing on third-and-1, but Furney connected on a 45-yard field goal to pull the Cougars even at 28-28 with 1:59 left.
The Huskies immediately marched deep into Washington State’s end and faced a third-and-1 at the Cougars’ 15 when they were flagged for the 18th time for a false start, tying the school record for most penalties in a game. Sankey was stopped short on third down and Washington coach Steve Sarkisian called timeout with 5 seconds left and sent Coons’ to win it.
But the snap was low, the timing was off and Coons’ kick never had a chance. With it went the Huskies shot at their first eight-win season since 2001.
“This will sting and this will hurt for probably more than a day quite honestly,” Sarkisian said.
Tuel finished 33 of 53 for 350 yards and two interceptions. Price was 20 of 34 for 194 yards and two touchdowns, but also committed two costly turnovers. He had a fumble in the fourth quarter that led to Winston’s third TD run.
The 18-point fourth-quarter rally was the largest overcome by a Washington State team since 1985.
“The mentality changed,” Mayes said. “We were able to keep fighting, keep throwing punches and eventually they gave up and we didn’t.”
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