Dawgman.com Diary - 11/16

When the weather forecast was announced, Sonny Shackelford shook his head. For a boy growing up in Southern California, snow isn't really an option, but here it was - snow forecasted for this Saturday's Apple Cup in Pullman. Shackelford was not amused.

"I heard it might snow a little bit," he said Monday. "I've played with snowballs and stuff, but I've never played football in snow. If it does snow, I'll just have to play in it."

You see, Shackelford doesn't really get it. Yet. He needs to talk with Derrick Johnson, another born-and-bred in conditions where snow doesn't see the light of day. After five years playing for the University of Washington, Johnson definitely gets 'it'.

"I think it's probably one of the most intense rivalries in the country, honestly," said Johnson. They are always great football games. Everyone gives one-hundred percent effort in these games, and that's what makes it special. All we can do is go out there and battle."

"It's different for me than for kids that grew up in Washington," Shackelford adds. "But any team we play is a big game, and since it's a rivalry game for this state, I'm sure things will be bumped up a lot more."

One of the other young receivers, Mill Creek's Craig Chambers, doesn't feel like it's going to be all that hard for the out-of-staters to get jacked up for this last game. "I think they understand by the way we act," he said. "We've been talking about this game since before the season started. You don't want to lose to Wazzu. They understand what it's like for us kids from the state, so I don't think we need to put too much emphasis on it.

"It's a game that you definitely have to win. Washington State feels the same way. It's a game where you put everything else aside and do whatever you have to do to win. It's a game that produces a lot of pressure."

And for all the times this season where the Huskies have folded like a lawn chair under adversity, the Apple Cup has recently brought the best out of them. From Corey Williams' highlight-reel grab, to Marquis Cooper's pick-and-score, to UW Head Coach Keith Gilbertson describing John Anderson as 'kicking field goals from Colfax' two years ago, the Dawgs have snatched victory from defeat in ways that were most unlike how they've played this year.

"It just seems like the momentum just turns and for about five minutes the game totally changes and it seems like we can never recover," Evan Benjamin said when asked about their losing ways. "We've got to make sure the other team just can't get a big play off. Opponents have been taking advantage of a big play or momentum change."

Talk turns to last week's game against highly-ranked California, using a script the Huskies have used over and over. They hang tough early, even get a score or two, and then a couple of plays later - that's the ballgame. "That's the difference between winning and losing - a turnover here, a big play there," said Benjamin. "It would have been a closer game, it would have been a better game. We've been so close. It's been like that whole year. If we had done some stuff right, we were just a few plays toward turning a game around, and maybe the season around.

"You watch Sportscenter and you see that we got blown out, but I know the guys on the other team don't feel that way. I have a couple of guys on the other team and they were saying that they went into halftime saying, 'What's going on here?'. I felt like they had to work for everything they got, so it's something positive. But we didn't capitalize. Every team that's come out to play us since the Oregon State has felt that way, but we've played with everybody. We have to put together four quarters of mistake-free football. I think that's the difference between us being 1-9 and being 8-2. We have to eliminate the mistakes."

They might want to start eliminating season-ending injuries too. "I might be a lone star," Johnson said, noting that he is the only captain of five left to actually play this Saturday. The latest casualty? Joe Lobendahn, who broke his wrist last weekend tracking down Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

"This season has been weird, having so many serious injuries," he continued. "Joe's such a big part of our defense, he's our energy boost. Joe and Evan Benjamin and Scott White - but (Tim) Galloway will step up like he did last year."

"That's one of the toughest blows this year," added Benjamin. "Losing Joe is hard, because he's the heart and soul of our defense. He's the middle 'backer and he can really control the game out there. But I know that Tim Galloway will go in there and do just fine."

No matter who goes out there, or who even ends up travelling to Pullman, those suiting up in purple and gold will be suiting up with the thought that their seniors have never lost to the Cougars.

Sonny Shackelford knows it. "We have to win for them and it also gets us off to a good start for next season," he said. "It'll get everybody motivated to practice harder and do what we have to do to be a great team next year. When you get recruited to this school, they have players that are tough and want to fight for everything, week after week. And I think that's what we have. Obviously we want to win games and do the best that we can."

"We are playing for our coach and our seniors and this winning streak. There's a whole lot of emotion that's going to be running," added Johnson.

It's a given for an in-stater like Chambers, who remembers travelling to Pullman for the infamous 'Snow Bowl' game in which his older brother Richie was playing in. "It's something you always dream about, growing up in the state," he said. "That's always the game you want to win. Before it even happens, people are talking smack about it.

"I don't know anybody on the (Washington State) team, but I know people that go there. People have been calling me since the start of the year, telling me that we would never win the game."

For guys like Shackelford, his goals going into the Apple Cup are clear; "To try and play my hardest for my friends and my coaches, so they can leave on a positive note."

By Saturday, he'll be adding one more goal to his list - BEAT THE COUGARS.

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