For a Washington program that’s regained status as a perennial contender under head coach Chris Petersen, this season of agonizing and perplexing losses has been marked by disappointment.
But with bragging rights at stake Friday, the Huskies salvaged some pride with yet another triumph over their cross-state rival.
Washington once again slowed down Washington State’s prolific Air Raid attack, beating the Cougars for the seventh straight time with a 31-13 victory in the 112th Apple Cup on a chilly afternoon in front of 70,931 fans at Husky Stadium.
“That has become a staple here,” Washington junior tight end Hunter Bryant said of winning the Apple Cup. “The seniors expect not to lose. Everyone on the team expects not to lose. We came out and showed up.”
Washington State entered with the Pac-12’s highest-scoring offense and the nation’s leading passer. The Huskies’ defense, meanwhile, hasn’t performed at the same elite level of recent years after graduating nine starters from last season.
But in an all-too-familiar story for the Cougars, their high-volume aerial attack once again struggled to score in this heated in-state rivalry.
“They haven’t switched up their plays, so we just keep running the same stuff,” Washington defensive back Elijah Molden said.
The Huskies (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12) held Washington State to 17 points or less for the seventh consecutive year and limited the Cougars to 339 total yards and 4.1 yards per play, well below their season averages. It matched a season-low point total for coach Mike Leach’s squad, which also managed just 13 points in a September loss to Utah.
“There’s a lot of things we’ve had success in the past with that we certainly did again,” Petersen said of his team’s defensive game plan. “There (were) a couple little wrinkles in there, … but for the most part it was similar.”
Washington rushed just three defensive linemen for much of the afternoon, yet still posted five sacks against a Washington State offense that had surrendered just 13 sacks all season. And with numerous defensive backs dropping into coverage, the Huskies took away the Cougars’ vertical passing game and forced senior quarterback Anthony Gordon to settle for underneath throws.
Gordon finished 48-of-62 passing for 308 yards, but threw no touchdown passes and two interceptions. The first-year starting quarterback entered with a Pac-12-record 45 touchdown passes this season, including 11 over his previous two games.
“They’re a talented group, so hats off to them for playing good defense,” Gordon said. “When they’re able to drop eight and rush three while getting pressure, that can make it tough for us.”
Washington State mounted five drives of 55-plus yards, including a methodical 81-yard touchdown march to open the game. But after that, the Cougars (6-6, 3-6) never found the end zone again. The Huskies forced three turnovers and held Washington State to just 13 points in five red-zone trips.
“The defense (did a) great job once again really playing with that bend-but-don’t-break (style),” Petersen said. “It’s not about yards. It’s about points.”
Washington quarterback Jacob Eason finished 15-of-22 passing for 244 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. It was a nice bounceback performance for the former Lake Stevens High School star, who tossed three interceptions over his previous two games.
More than half of Eason’s passing yards went to the tight-end duo of Bryant and Cade Otton. Bryant caught six passes for a team-high 96 yards.
Running back Salvon Ahmed added 85 yards rushing on 16 carries for the Huskies, who scored four touchdowns on five red-zone trips.
“I thought it was good team ball today,” Petersen said. “The offense was efficient enough scoring points we needed to (and) our defense stopped them.”
After winning two of the past three Pac-12 titles, the Huskies lost five conference games this year, matching their total from the previous three seasons combined. But their continued dominance of Washington State still provided plenty of cause for celebration, as players took turns hoisting the Apple Cup trophy and posing for postgame photographs on the field after this latest mastery of the Cougars.
With the victory, the Huskies achieved their longest winning streak in the rivalry since rattling off eight straight victories between 1974 and 1981.
“It’s pretty cool that the seniors have never lost to the Cougs,” Washington sophomore receiver Terrell Bynum said.
Running back Max Borghi capped Washington State’s lengthy game-opening drive with a 1-yard scoring run, giving the Cougars their first opening-quarter Apple Cup touchdown since 2012.
Later in the first quarter, Eason uncorked a 57-yard play-action pass to Bynum and plowed into the end zone on a 3-yard quarterback sneak to even the score at 7-7.
Washington State answered with another long drive, but the Huskies’ defense pressured Gordon into a third-and-goal intentional-grounding penalty that forced the Cougars to settle for a field goal.
“We just squandered a bunch of opportunities and fell behind the chains,” Gordon said. “They’re too good of a defense to fall behind the chains.”
Washington surged in front with a pair of second-quarter touchdowns.
The first came after Eason connected with Otton on a fourth-down completion to extend the drive. That led to a 16-yard touchdown pass from Eason to Bynum, who hauled in the perfectly placed ball over his shoulder in the right side of the end zone.
Then after back-to-back sacks from their defense set up the Huskies with good field position, Otton took a screen pass 25 yards and running back Richard Newton scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to give Washington a 21-10 lead.
The Huskies stretched their advantage on the opening drive of the second half, keyed by a 39-yard strike from Eason to a wide-open Bryant. Newton followed with a 2-yard touchdown run to make it 28-10.
Trailing 28-13 early in the fourth quarter, the Cougars drove inside the Washington 10 and had a chance to make it a one-possession game. But on a third-down completion to the flat, defensive back Trent McDuffie forced a fumble and teammate Myles Bryant recovered the loose ball to preserve the Huskies’ 15-point advantage.
McDuffie then intercepted a pass on Washington State’s ensuing possession and the Huskies drove downfield for a chip-shot field goal to effectively seal the game.
“It’s a great feeling,” Bryant said. “This is a pretty heated rivalry for both sides, and it’s just a credit to our preparation. It’s a credit to our coaching staff and our players, the strength staff and just everybody in that locker room getting together and persevering.”