PULLMAN — All season long, people have wondered which college football team in the state of Washington was worse.
From September to mid November, the losses piled up on both sides of the Cascades as Washington and Washington State stumbled through seasons that rank among the worst in both schools’ histories, and the Apple Cup loomed as the game that would settle the argument of which team was more inept.
On Saturday, Washington dropped a 16-13 overtime decision to the Cougars in front of 32,211 at Martin Stadium to claim that dubious honor, and the Huskies are now in serious danger of going 0-12 with only a Dec. 6 game at California left on the schedule.
As the losses mounted for Washington this fall, the Apple Cup still looked winnable thanks to the Cougars struggles, but as is the norm in this rivalry, the unexpected happened and Washington State, a team many thought was the worst in the country, had enough fight in it to steal a win late.
“No disrespect to them, but we went up against a team that everybody is saying is the worst in the nation, and you can’t pull out a win, I mean, you’ve got to look at yourself and ask yourself, ‘What are we?’” said Washington tailback Willie Griffin, who rushed for a game-high 112 yards on 26 carries.
What they are, it seems, is a team that is even worse than people thought coming into the game. Barring an unlikely upset two weeks from now in Berkeley, Calif., the Huskies, the only winless Division I-A football team, will be saddled with the label of the nation’s worst team when the season ends.
“Well, I think it’s easy to make that assumption, because we’re the only winless team, so that comes with the territory,” said senior tight end Michael Gottlieb.
For most of the afternoon, it looked like the Huskies would end their 12-game losing streak while adding to WSU’s misery, but an improbable comeback created a thrilling finish to a game that early on was living down to its expectations.
Trailing 10-0 at halftime, the Cougars got back into the game late in the third quarter thanks to a 57-yard touchdown run by Logwone Mitz. The Huskies had a chance to pad their three-point lead, but Jared Ballman missed a 40-yard field goal attempt on Washington’s next possession, and Ryan Perkins missed a 28-yarder the next time Washington had the ball.
Washington’s defense, which played well for most of the afternoon, looked like it preserved a win for the Huskies when it stopped WSU on fourth-and-seven with two minutes left in the game. But Washington didn’t pick up the first down when it got the ball back, and facing fourth-and-three from the Cougars 36, the Huskies elected to punt rather than go for it or attempt a long field goal. Ballman’s punt went into the end zone, giving WSU the ball back at the 20 with 56 seconds remaining and no timeouts.
With 31 seconds left in the game, Kevin Lopina, who had been sacked four times and taken numerous other hard hits, made the biggest play of his college career, finding freshman receiver Jared Karstetter for a 48-yard gain on the fourth play of the drive that took the Cougars to the Washington 18-yard line.
Karstetter, who came into the game with three catches for 31 yards this season, beat UW cornerback Quinton Richardson when Richardson bit on a pump fake, and also got past safety Tripper Johnson. He caught another pass from Lopina on the next play to pick up seven more yards, and the offense got set in time for Lopina to spike the ball with two seconds left on the clock. Nico Grasu then kicked a 28-yard field goal to send the game to overtime.
The teams traded field goals in the first overtime, but when the Huskies started the second overtime with the ball, they could only move five yards before Perkins came in to attempt a 37-yard field goal, and he missed the kick wide right, making the Huskies 2-for-5 on field goal attempts.
The Cougars took no chances after that, handing the ball off three straight times to set up Grasu for the 37-yard game winner.
“It is the greatest feeling ever,” Grasu said.
And as students rushed the field — likely a first for a college football team following a win over an 0-11 team — several Huskies stayed on the field, shocked that they once again came up empty this season.
“I’m speechless,” said junior linebacker Donald Butler, who led the Huskies with 11 tackles. “Right down to the wire. Seconds left to go in the game. We had them. We had them beat. But they found a way to get it done, and we didn’t.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on UW sports, check out the Huskies blog at heraldnet.com /huskiesblog.
Washington St. 16,
Washington 13 (2OT)
Wash—Griffin 3 run (Perkins kick), 12:17.
Wash—FG Perkins 35, 5:07.
WSU—Mitz 57 run (Grasu kick), 2:56.
WSU—FG Grasu 28, :00.
WSU—FG Grasu 19.
Wash—FG Perkins 22.
WSU—FG Grasu 37.
Time of Possession35:2624:34
RUSHING—Washington, Griffin 26-112, Dailey 20-89, Bruns 2-24, J.Polk 1-5, Team 1-(minus 1), B.Johnson 3-(minus 2), Fouch 5-(minus 3). Washington St., Tardy 19-75, Mitz 7-70, Forrest 1-28, Gibson 1-0, Lopina 9-(minus 2).
PASSING—Washington, Fouch 11-16-1-99. Washington St., Lopina 17-29-1-167, Team 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING—Washington, Goodwin 5-40, Gottlieb 4-49, Dailey 1-5, Kearse 1-5. Washington St., Gibson 5-27, Frischknecht 3-33, Norrell 3-31, Karstetter 2-55, Anderson 2-14, Tardy 2-7.