SEATTLE — Bring on the Apple Cup?
Y’know what? Yeah, bring on the Apple Cup!
No, this year’s rivalry game between Washington and Washington State may not have the luster it promised five weeks ago. But the Huskies’ dramatic last-second 33-30 victory over Utah late Saturday night at Husky Stadium set the stage for the 110th edition of the annual contest for state college football supremacy, which takes place this Saturday on Montlake, and even without the hoped-for national-championship implications it’s a game worth getting excited about.
I wasn’t necessarily thinking that prior to Washington’s game against the Utes. Those thoughts weren’t allayed as the Huskies struggled against a .500 Utah squad.
After all, this was supposed to be the year when the Apple Cup took on national significance, with a pair of undefeated top-five teams going head-to-head with a place in the College Football Playoff at stake.
Then came those ill-fated 24 hours between Oct. 13 and 14 when both the Huskies and Cougars suffered inexplicable losses, bringing their unbeaten seasons to an end, with other defeats to follow.
Yes, WSU still has plenty to play for, as a victory over Washington gives the Cougars the Pac-12 North title. But with the Huskies’ division title hopes administered their last rites by Stanford’s victory over California earlier Saturday, I understand if college football fans in the state consider this year’s apples disappointingly soft and mushy.
But even before Washington’s late heroics against Utah — quarterback Jake Browning recovering from being turned into a human pinwheel to lead the Huskies to 10 points in the final 58 seconds; running back and Lynnwood native Myles Gaskin scoring his third touchdown during a game in which he became the school record holder for career TD runs; kicker Tristan Vizcaino redeeming his entire tumultuous season by nailing the game-winning 38-yard field goal as time expired — I’d changed my mind.
First of all, this is a huge game for Washington State. They have a chance to play for the Pac-12 championship. That’s always worth getting hyped up about, no matter what the Huskies’ status is heading into the Apple Cup.
And Washington isn’t exactly on life support. This will be an Apple Cup in which the combined record of the two teams is 18-4 and in which both teams are ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 — WSU, which had a bye this week, checks in at No. 14 while Washington is one spot behind at No. 15. And if there were any doubts about whether the Huskies could muster the motivation for a game in which the only role they can play is spoiler, those were extinguished by the heart and enthusiasm Washington displayed in overcoming the Utes in such dramatic fashion.
“These kids work hard,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said following the victory over Utah. “They practice hard, they study hard. I hope this gives them some swag back so they don’t have to play so tight.
“November football is hard,” Petersen added. “We knew this was going to be a hard stretch. Utah is a good team, they have some players and they’ve had some injuries. They are a dangerous team, I said it earlier this week. Between them, Stanford and WSU, that’s a tough stretch. I hope this win gives the guys a bounce in their step.”
So heck yeah, bring on the Apple Cup! Even without that extra dash of spice, these apples should still be delectable.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.