The Cougars Greatest Game
A couple of days ago, someone asked me what my favorite Husky Stadium moment was. Without flinching, I told him the 1997 Apple Cup.
It took him a moment, but when he realized it was the game that sent the Cougars to the Rose Bowl, a smile crept across his face. “That was your day” the man said. “No,” I replied, “It was our day”.
I, like a lot of Cougars remember that day as turning point in our programs history. The greatest games are usually set aside as the ones that go down in the lexicon of college football history.
I believe this game qualified for that category. It was a day when fans would watch Washington State be crowned as Pac-10 champions for the first time, and it also would mark the first time in over a decade the Cougars would beat the Huskies at Husky Stadium.
For all Cougars, for one afternoon we ruled ruled college football.
1997 was a funny year of sorts for the Cougs.
The Huskies came into that season as the consensus pick to win the Pac-10 title. As a matter of fact, entering the Apple Cup the Huskies (5-2, fourth place) were 8 point favorites. The Cougars on the other hand, were the consensus pick to finish seventh in the conference.
Washington State would finish the season at 6-1 and tied at the top with UCLA and Arizona State. Earlier in the season the Cougs beat UCLA in the first game of the season, but fell to Arizona State in the desert. They had to beat the Huskies in the Apple Cup and have UCLA beat USC to clinch their first ever Pac-10 title , and a berth in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1931.
With just over 70,000 fans crammed into Husky Stadium at kickoff, the Huskies got right to work. Driving 71 yards on their first possession for a quick 7-0 lead.
The Washington St. Cougars tied the game early in the second quarter with an eight-yard touchdown run by Michael Black. On the next Cougars possession, Ryan Leaf connected with Chris Jackson for a 57-yard touchdown pass on a go route.
Rian Lindell then tacked on a field goal and just like that, the Cougars had answered the Huskies with 17 unanswered points and took a ten point halftime lead.
I remember sitting at halftime with my friends (all Huskies) when an eerie feeling crept in.
It was just two years earlier on the same field that Rashaan Shehee single handedly carried the Huskies to victory with 212 yards rushing. Everyone knew what the Huskies were capable of doing to the Cougs.
Big plays always seemed to be there for the Huskies when they needed one. As far as I was concerned, all bets were off when it came to the second half.
As the third quarter hit the mid-way point, something extraordinary happened. The momentum swung to WSU for good. The Cougs struck lightning in a bottle. A brock Huard turnover would would end up breaking the Huskies back.
On the very next possession, Michael Black would fumble in the end zone. Amid all bedlam, offensive lineman Rob Rainville recovered the ball pushing Washington State’s lead to 24-7.
A lead the Cougars would never relinquish.
The Huskies would twice cut the lead to 3 points, but could never seem to find the big play they always seemed to dial up late in Apple Cups.
Washington State would take full advantage of that and put together two more scoring drives in fourth quarter. Rian Lindell’s field goal sealed it at 41-28, and with just over 2 minutes left in the game, the countdown had officially begun.
As time expired and as fans stormed the field, I remember crying.
I had never experienced a moment so powerful in competitive sports as what was transpiring before my 16 year-old eyes.
For the longest time we Cougars have been the laughing stock, and the butt-end of Husky jokes. But on that November evening in 1997 as Ryan Leaf was being carried around on the shoulders of proud Cougars, something special happened.
Husky fans stopped seeing crimson and gray as hated colors, and embraced the Cougars as an equal.
Everyone in attendance at Husky Stadium was rooting for the same team. On that evening of November 22nd in 1997, the Washington State Cougars were champions.