'They don't like us and we don't like them'

PULLMAN – Physical play is standard at Apple Cup football games. In fact, Washington State center Elliott Bosch recalls getting roughed up a bit by Washington fans when he attended the Apple Cup as a young Cougars fan in 2005, when Alex Brink and Trandon Harvey teamed up in the waning moments in Seattle to win it for the Cougs.

"We had two sideline passes in our family for some reason (uncle John Johnson, a senior associate athletic director at WSU, may have had a role) so me and my brother were on the sideline," Bosch recalled Monday. "We won that game, and being down there with some of the players, it was awesome.

"And having to walk with all my Cougar gear on through the Husky tailgates and getting shoved as, like, a seventh grader – it was a good memory."

Bosch actually would have been a freshman in high school in 2005, but let's not spoil a good story. Besides, Bosch says, he didn't mind the shoves.

Cougs vs. Huskies

The kickoff:
12:30 p.m. Friday, Husky Stadium.

TV: Fox Sports

The line: Huskies by 14½ points

The series: Huskies lead 67-32-6

Last time: WSU 31, UW 28 OT

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"It's just part of it (the rivalry)," Bosch said. "Little nudges here and there.

"They were angry fans. They didn't appreciate me walking through there, I guess. I was just trying to go home."

Bosch, who grew up in Spokane, said he attended "quite a few" Apple Cups in his youth – his dad had WSU season tickets for years – but Bosch and all the Cougars will be hard-pressed to top last year's Apple Cup for memories that last a lifetime. The Cougars rallied from 18 points down in the fourth quarter and won in overtime on an Andrew Furney field goal.

"When he made the field goal, everybody's just running out to the field," Deone Bucannon said Monday. "I just remember (quarterback) Jeff Tuel sprinting out to the field. He was so happy. I just remember his face.

"The other thing I remember is T-Long (injured senior buck linebacker Travis Long), how emotional he was because he wasn't able to play in his last Apple Cup. That was a player I loved to play with. He's by far the player I most enjoyed playing with. His passion, how much he loves the game and how good he was."

In stark contrast to Bosch, Bucannon had never heard of the Apple Cup before he moved from California to Pullman to attend college. It didn't take him long to get up to speed about the Apple Cup.

"It's a lot bigger than just a game," he said. "It's tradition. It's something that's been going on for so long. It's not just us playing out there. It's us presenting previous players that played in the game.

"It's a lot bigger than just us. I think everyone in the locker room understands that, and that's just going to push us that much more to maybe get in that extra film (watching game tape). Maybe get that extra rep in the weight room."

Not that the Cougars need extra motivation to play in the Apple Cup, but they can clinch their first winning season and bowl trip since 2003 with a win Friday at Husky Stadium (12:30 p.m., FOX). Oddsmakers have installed the Huskies as two-TD favorites.

"Every year it kind of doesn't matter how each team is doing, it's always a good game," Bosch said. "Everyone always gets up for the Apple Cup, but it means a little more to us than it has in the past few years, that's for sure."

"We're more focused on the Apple Cup than the bowl aspect," Bucannon stressed.

Bosch added, "Last year, we tried to set the standard that we're not going to lose to the Huskies anymore. We're going to do everything we can to continue that this year."

The Cougars like their chances of winning a lot more if they can control running back Bishop Sankey. A quick, powerful junior out of Gonzaga Prep in Spokane, Sankey – who made a verbal commitment to WSU before having a late change of heart – is the nation's third-leading rusher with 1,575 yards.

"He's a great running back. ... he's a huge key to the offense," Bucannon said. "He kind of sets the tempo. They feed off of him."

The Cougars counter with the nation's third-leading passer. Connor Halliday, who starred at Ferris High along with Bosch, is just 63 yards shy of Ryan Leaf's school record of 3,968 passing yards in a season.

Halliday is quick to credit the offensive line for improving immensely since last year, when the Cougars gave up a school-record 57 sacks (most in the nation). The sacks count is down to 22 this year.

"After last year," Bosch said, "as a group – as an offensive line – we knew that it was important for this thing to work that we had to improve a lot.

"We bought in and put in the work, and it's starting to pay off a little bit. We can still play better."

The O-line may have peaked last Saturday. Facing a Utah Utes defense that led the nation with 36 sacks, the Cougars gave up zero sacks while passing the ball 62 times.

"They were a good defensive front," Bosch said. "We've seen a lot of good defensive fronts this year.

"But you know, it came down to us worrying about what we were doing. Worrying about our technique rather than what they were going to do. I think that kind of set us apart from other games. We focused more on, if we just trust our technique and do what we're coached to do, it doesn't matter what they do, we'll be ready for it."

Bucannon said the Cougars have "a ton of leaders," most notably Bosch, Halliday and MIK linebacker Darryl Monroe.

"I feel like Bosh is the epitome of what a leader is," Bucannon said. "He doesn't say much, but when he does is, he supports the team and he leads by example. Those are the leaders I love the most."

Bucannon is another respected team leader. The leaders worked hard to establish a new vibe around the football program when coach Mike Leach decided to move the start of fall camp to Sacajawea Junior High School in nearby Lewiston.

"It paid dividends," Bucannon said. "It let us focus on ourselves without distractions. We went out there and it was kinda like just us. There's no one else out there. It's just us, and we can focus on what we need to do individually, and it promotes camaraderie.

"All you see is your teammates. You don't see students on campus (the Cougars stayed in dorms at Lewis-Clark State College). You can't just go anywhere. It's football, you hang out with your teammates and then you go to sleep."

The coaching staff handed out Sacajawea Junior High T-shirts prior to the Utah game as a motivational ploy. Some coaches and players wore them during the game. "I'm going to have that shirt for a really long time," Bucannon said. "Maybe give it my kids someday."

Bucannon also hopes to tell his kids about the time he helped the Cougars beat the Huskies two years in a row. First, however, he plans to win the bowling "tournament" the team holds Wednesday in Pullman. For the second straight year, the Cougars will bowl and eat their Thanksgiving meal at Zeppoz before Leach does his weekly radio show at the restaurant and bowling center.

Asked to name the best bowler on the Cougars, Bucannon smiled and said, "I would have to say me, of course."

Bucannon did acknowledge that linebacker Tana Pritchard is "a really good bowler." As for Leach …

"I didn't really see him last (year)," Bucannon said with a laugh. "I'm sure he can get it down there. If I see it, I'll probably tape it."

That might make for some fun entertainment on the plane ride home from Seattle. After a win, anyway.

"We're definitely going to go out there with our hair on fire," Bucannon said.

"It's a heated rivalry," Bosch summed up. "They don't like us and we don't like them."


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