Greatest Apple Cup of Last 30 Years

ON AN OMINOUSLY overcast November day in 1982, when the Apple Cup showdown between Washington and Washington State returned to Pullman after 28 years in Seattle and Spokane, the world of college football would be turned on its head.

And the reverberations are still felt today.

For it was on that day --- November 20, to be precise --- that a hopelessly banged-up Cougar squad with only two victories to its name pulled off the greatest upset in Apple Cup history: A 24-20 come-from-behind nail-biter in jam-packed Martin Stadium against a Husky team that entered the game in the Top 10, sporting a lofty 9-1 record. Oddsmakers had installed them as 24 1/2 point favorites.

The Apple Cup, for all intents and purposes, was merely a formality en route to what seemed a certain New Year's date for the Dawgs with Bo Schembechler's Michigan Wolverines. In fact, The Seattle Times was so certain of the outcome that it dispatched venerable columnist Georg Meyers to Columbus that weekend to do a story on the Michigan-Ohio State game.

Back in Pullman, the Huskies jumped to a 17-7 halftime lead. But the momentum turned crimson early in the third quarter when Keith Millard recovered a Paul Skansi fumble at the UW 28. A few plays later, Cougar QB Clete Casper passed six yards to Mike Peterson for WSU's first TD.

And suddenly, the battle was on. This silver anniversary edition of the rivalry was about to become the stuff of lore.

"I was on the sidelines," remembers Paul Sorensen, who was one-year removed from his All-American senior season at WSU. "The whole day had this eerie feel about it --- the dark clouds, the all-crimson uniforms for the first time since the 1931 Rose Bowl. That TD pass to Peterson just sent an electric bolt through the stands. Cougar fans were on their feet the rest of the way."

Behind a line featuring Gary Patrick, Dan Lynch, Steve Sebehar, Kevin Sloan, and the late John Winslow, running backs Tim Harris and James Matthews each gained more than 100 yards and the offense managed to put 10 more points on the board. Meanwhile, the D produced two big turnovers: Jerald Waters' recovery of a Tim Cowan fumble caused by blitzing Rob Treece, and then Mark Pleis' interception of Cowan's final pass with 56 seconds left.

The most memorable play, though, was Husky kicker Chuck Nelson's 33-yard field goal attempt with just more than four minutes left in the game. The Huskies trailed 21-20. The kick sailed narrowly to the right, sending a chorus of disbelieving gasps through the Martin Stadium press box and the Husky corner of the bleachers. The miss ended Nelson's NCAA record for most consecutive field goals at 30 while preserving the Cougars' lead and the all-important momentum.

Within the hour, Martin Stadium's goalposts were resting at the bottom of the Palouse River.

"A bunch of us seniors from the 1981 Cougar team that would have gone to the Rose Bowl if we'd won the Apple Cup returned to Pullman for the 1982 game," Sorensen said. "There wasn't a dry eye among us when the clocked ticked down. It was redemption for the previous season, but also redemption for the previous decade. It sent chills down your spine."

More than just deny the Huskies the Rose Bowl, the Cougar win was profound because it forever changed the way Cougars and Huskies view each other.

Plain and simple, the rivalry was reborn.

Up to then, under Don James' leadership, the Dawgs had won eight straight against the Cougs.

To this day, Cougar coach Jim Walden says getting Apple Cups moved to Pullman from Spokane in the years WSU is the host team is one of his most gratifying accomplishments. Playing in Spokane effectively amounted to a road game for players and students, he said, and the crowd was far too evenly split.

While the powerfully memorable 1997 Apple Cup earned the Cougars their first Rose Bowl trip in 67 years, christens the 1982 Apple Cup as the greatest of the last 30 years for one simple reason --- a rivalry was reborn. Without it, we dare say, Drew Bledsoe's "Snow Bowl" heroics and Ryan Leaf's "Season of Destiny" may never have been.

In order, here are our choices for the greatest Apple Cups -- from a Cougar perspective -- of the last two decades:

WSU 24, UW 20: The first Apple Cup played in Pullman in 28 years. The Cougs, 2-7-1 coming in, come out in all-crimson uniforms for the first time since the 1931 Rose Bowl. Tim Harris and James Matthews rush up a storm, while Chuck Nelson unexpectedly sails right.

WSU 45, UW 35: With a Rose Bowl berth hanging in the balance, the Cougar offense puts on a show and the defense comes up with five interceptions --- three by freshman Lamont Thompson. Cougar fans storm the Husky Stadium field in a rain-soaked celebration that lasts nearly an hour.

WSU 42, UW 23: Drew Bledsoe and Shaumbe Wright-Fair trigger a second-half avalanche that buries the defending national champs in snow-covered Martin Stadium. Cougs Copper Bowl bound.

WSU 32, UW 31: Cougars trail by 12 but fight back with a tough second-half defense. Shawn Landrum's blocked punt and Jay Languin's recovery at the UW 13 set up the winning TD: Timm Rosenbach's fourth-and-goal keeper at the four. Cougs Aloha bound.

WSU 17, UW 6: Proving 1982 was no fluke, the Ricky Turner-led Cougars deny the Huskies a Rose Bowl berth again. The play of the day belonged to WSU punter Glenn Harper, whose TD-saving tackle of Danny Greene swung the momentum.

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