Following the introduction of the seniors just prior to kickoff, the team-wide intensity seemed to pick up quite a bit. But then early on in the game, Washington State blocked a Husky punt. The roar from the Cougar fans was booming in volume and came from all directions.
Washington looked aggressive both offensively and defensively, even if execution was sometimes failing. It was clear early on in the game that UW intended to blitz regularly. The tackling by the Husky defenders was 50,000 times surer this week than against California.
It was clear that the Dawg D was committed on this Saturday in November. They were not going to be questioned on effort again as they were in California.
Kenny James' first fumble typified many of both the Huskies' and Cougars mistakes—brutal because it was unforced.
But what made this week different was that the Husky defense promptly forced WSU into a 3-and-out.
By the 5:00 mark of the 1st quarter, the stadium's overhead lights were taking effect in contrast to the gloaming and the shadows of the players were starting to cast long upon the playing surface.
In the 2nd quarter there was a near-interception that miraculously was bobbled and dropped by Cougar defenders. But it was worthy because it was one of Cody Pickett's most composed plays all season. Pickett dropped back to pass, a blitzing defender was flying in downhill right on top of him, and Pickett made a quick read and release with an accurate pass to WR Charles Frederick. Many other times this year, Pickett has not responded well to that type of situation.
This game it would be different for the senior from Caldwell, Idaho.
I made a note at 5:58 remaining in the first half that there seemed to be a resistance in the Husky team toward giving in to the concept of failure. The Husky defense would make a big play, hand great field position to the offense, only to see the opportunity thwarted by the Cougar defense.
The emotion was there. After one Cody Pickett interception, two defensive players disgustedly threw cups onto the field and needed to be restrained by Steve Emtman.
This team clearly cared.
Again and again the Husky defense would come right back and hold tough. There wasn't that "Katie Bar the Door" type of mentality that has struck contagiously so often this year like the Bubonic plague.
With 0:57 left in the first half, Reggie Williams was lying at the 10-yard line. Throughout the stadium, fans began to chant REG-GIE! REG-GIE! Until it rose to a crescendo. It was good to see a purveying sense of unity between the crowd and the home team.
At half time, with its team trailing 13-7 to the cross-state rivals, the Husky band inexplicably broke into a rendition of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", played before a disinterested audience. How's that for a digression? And now back to the game.
Early in 3rd quarter, Huskies received another magnificent opportunity, in the way of a Cougar fumble. Alas the Huskies blew the opportunity with three incomplete passes and an unsuccessful fake field goal.
The fake was a beautiful call, but the execution wasn't quite there.
Throughout the second half, most Husky players were expending a tremendous effort. There were many shortcomings and mistakes, but not the results of going through the motions.
Evan Benjamin's interception with 5:00 left in the 3rd quarter made it clear that regardless of the outcome, the Huskies were not wont for opportunity.
At the end of the 3th quarter, former Husky Mario Bailey was introduced to the crowd as a Husky Legend. The capacity crowd went bonkers and bellowed their affection toward "Super Mario", who scored a school-record 17 receiving TDs in 1991.
Early in the 4th quarter and trailing still 16-7, I made a note to myself that the Huskies massive blitzing was making a discernible difference in the Cougars' offensive performance.
I also made a note that the Huskies seemed wary of going down the middle.
On Charles Frederick's 16-yard punt return, Chris Fetters (who was also in the press box) and I turned to each other and simultaneously exclaimed how it seemed more like a 50-yard return, what with all the lateral motion. ET is really something special, and I can't wait to see him next year.
Following Shelton Sampson's TD run to close the deficit to 16-14, confetti rained down from the student section as the boisterous crowd was given reason to believe and be hopeful.
As the defense took the field with 11:59 left, the crowd was so loud that the press box was shaking.
Then came that fateful Pickett throw, his last as a Husky. How great is it that it wound up being the play that beat the Cougars? When Corey Williams hauled in the perfect pass from Pickett, Husky Stadium went ape. When, a few moments later, Marquis Cooper picked off the Swogger pass and ran it back for a touchdown, the ecstasy went off the scale. It was a mad house.
After the clock struck 0:00, the Cougars filed past us up the tunnel with the grimmest expressions of pain. Meanwhile, TV cameras at the 10-yard line were interviewing Cody Pickett. At the completion of the interview, Pickett turned toward the locker room and was immediately beset upon by 8-10 random fans that wanted to pat his helmet, pat his butt, smack his shoulder pads, all of them yelling WAY TO GO CODY!-- And all of them suddenly wanting a piece of him. I thought of how surreal that must be feeling for him at that moment. And this scene hearkens back to me a lesson that I learn more and more the older I get:
Life is chock full of irony.
This was author Derek Johnson's first Husky game for Dawgman.com in the press box.