Eight years ago, as a senior at Washington State, I watched from the Martin Stadium stands as Cougar fans streamed onto the field to celebrate a 28-25 victory over the Washington Huskies. It was the Cougs’ first win over their archrival since 1997, so needless to say, Pullman was pumped.
Entering Friday’s Apple Cup, I did not expect a similar scene to unfold at Martin Stadium, though maybe I should have.
In 2008, the last time the Cougars won the Apple Cup, Nico Grasu kicked a field goal at the end of regulation and another in double overtime in Pullman to lead a 16-13 victory over the winless Huskies.
This time, with an 0-fer conference season staring the Cougs in the face, it was Andrew Furney who booted his way into Apple Cup lore. He calmly tied the score on a 45-yard field goal, erasing the last remnants of an 18-point deficit, and then kicked the game-winning 27-yarder in overtime.
Though it was exhilarating to be in the crowd, witnessing a sea of crimson and gray rolling out of the stands and onto the green turf after the Cougs’ 31-28 triumph, it was particularly heartening to realize that this team had a will to win, after all.
Earlier on, it didn’t seem as if Wazzu had what it took to come out on top in this rivalry game. After UW scored 21 unanswered third-quarter points to go up 28-10, I thought, “Well, at least WSU led at some point.”
Maybe the players grew tired of that type of resigned thinking, too, because suddenly heroes were coming out of the woodwork.
And if penalties could be personified, they, too, could be considered saviors.
UW was called for roughing the passer, pass interference and a face mask on the same drive, and WSU took advantage. Carl Winston bulled in from the 1-yard line for his second touchdown of the fourth quarter, and the 2-point conversion pass from Jeff Tuel to Brett Bartolone pulled the Cougars within 28-25 with 7:26 left to play.
The Huskies had their playmakers, too. Former Prosser High School standout Cody Bruns, hailed by his teammates six days earlier after scoring his first touchdown for UW, got in the end zone again. Bishop Sankey had two short runs to help put the Huskies up by 18. Keith Price orchestrated the UW offense with confidence that WSU fans weren’t seeing in Tuel.
But something eventually sparked in Tuel, too. He lost his balance in the fourth quarter while running from UW defenders and was about to lose yards on the play, but he somehow righted himself on the ball and fired to Isiah Myers for a 29-yard gain.
That glimmer of hope, along with others — redshirt freshman Dominique Williams’ eight catches for 143 yards, Winston’s three TDs on the day — restoked the fire for WSU fans.
But one unshakable thought remained: This still is UW’s game to lose.
And then Travis Coons missed a 35-yard field goal as time expired in regulation. And then, on the first play of overtime, Price appeared to pass as he was dragged down to the grass by Logan Mayes, son of WSU legend Rueben Mayes. Nose tackle Kalafitoni Pole snatched the ball out of the air and almost ran it back for a score.
Then the unshakable thought, which had started to show some cracks late in the fourth, shook itself into a million pieces. In the end, this was WSU’s game to win.
And the Cougs came through, gaining enough yards to get within a comfortable range for their kicker.
As Furney lifted the ball toward the uprights, Cougar spirits rose, too, as it became clear that the kick was good. The sports-journalist objectivity I had honed so carefully during the last 7 1/2 years was gone as I jumped and hugged my husband and friends — all fellow WSU alumni — in excitement.
In a season (or two, or five) full of forgettable moments, it’s nice to have one sterling memory that will last a lifetime. But hopefully Coug fans won’t have to wait until the end of next year to celebrate something again.