JOHNSON: Apple Cup win salvaged Husky Hope

I remember a moment from last year's game in Pullman - the 99th meeting between the Huskies and Cougs - that I had a poignant moment of reflection. UW quarterback Carl Bonnell had just forced an awful pass to receiver Cody Ellis. It was picked off by Cougar Eric Frampton, who raced 43 yards for the touchdown and a 14-7 WSU lead.

I felt my heart grow cold and I shook my head. "Judas Priest," I muttered. "We're going to lose our seventh straight game. Can you (bleeping) believe it?"

At that moment, a realization came to me. I recalled sitting with my Dad in our seats in Husky Stadium's south side upper deck back in 1983, when I was 12 years old. The Huskies were playing No. 2 Michigan. On the first play of the fourth quarter, UW quarterback Steve Pelluer dropped back to pass, before being hammered on a blindside hit by a Wolverine linebacker. Pelluer coughed up the football, and it went rolling backwards 20 yards into the end zone. Michigan's Mike Mallory recovered it, to give the visitors a commanding 24-10 lead.

To put it lightly - I proceeded to have a meltdown. "Dad, this sucks!" I exclaimed. "We're going to lose! Why did Pelluer have to fumble? He should have been ready for the blitz coming from the blind side! We suck!"

My Dad turned toward me and projected a stern look. "Son, I want you to calm down. I'm sorry to see that you have lost faith in your team. But I'll tell you what - I will bet you one dollar that the Huskies will come back and win this game. They play four quarters for a reason. I want you to remember to never lose faith in our Huskies."

Thinking my Dad insane, I immediately shook his head to qualify the wager.

In the game's final fourteen minutes, Steve Pelluer proceeded to complete 15 passes in a row. Included was a marvelous touchdown toss to Dave Stransky, followed by an epic two-point conversion throw to back-up tight end Larry Michael - to give the Huskies a 25-24 victory for the ages.

Now suddenly my mind returns to the present. I am a mature 36-year old man watching the 2006 Huskies falling behind the Cougars 14-7 on Eric Frampton's interception return. I sternly remind myself that we've got quality defenders in Dashon Goldson and C.J. Wallace, and that Stanley Daniels isn't half-bad at offensive guard. I have seen a lot of football in my life and have witnessed many strange things. The words of my father are in my ears, trying to convey that all-important lesson.

Then I recall the previous week's horrifying loss to pathetic Stanford, while noting the team's current six-game losing streak and uninspired play through the first quarter against the Cougs.

"Nope," I think as I shake my head. "We suck. We're too far gone. We're going to lose!"

Then something wonderfully crazy and unexpected happens. The anemic Huskies transform into a scoring machine.

Husky receiver Cody Ellis spears a wayward pass from Carl Bonnell (with one hand!), juggling it between his legs while on the run, before sprinting 64 yards for the touchdown.

Erstwhile UW receiver Marcel Reece turns an intermediate crossing route into an electrifying 69-yard touchdown reception down the right sideline, leaving Cougar defenders in his dust.

Reserve linebacker Chris Stevens slices up the middle to engulf a Cougar punt before tracking it down in the end zone and pouncing like a leopard for another Washington score.

Then Marlon Wood responds to a Cougar kickoff by busting loose for an 87-yard return, which sets up a touchdown run by the maligned Louis Rankin.

Finally - it's Rankin again - putting the Maraschino cherry on the whipped cream, by popping through a seam on the right side and sprinting untouched 77 yards for the final Husky touchdown. He returns to the UW sideline and is met by his normally stoic head coach Tyrone Willingham - who gives him a warm embrace.

"There was a lot of emotion," said a sobbing UW senior Stanley Daniels in the victors' locker room. "We poured our hearts out to the team. It's huge. It's the Apple Cup. I don't care if you're 12-0 or 1-and-whatever."

"It speaks to the courage of our young men," said UW Coach Tyrone Willingham in the game's aftermath. "A week before we were written for dead ... They never stopped working. And I'm proud of them for that."

In looking back at last November, had the Huskies lost to the Cougars, they would have carried the stigma of a 7-game losing streak into the off-season. There would have been little solace but that redshirting phenom Jake Locker might lead them out of the desert of despair.

But somehow in the strange anatomy, winning the Apple Cup infused hope and energy into the Washington Huskies. It has given all the returning players a taste of what might be - should they work hard and improve this off-season.

The day after beating the Cougs last November, I got a phone call from my Dad. "Wasn't that a great way to end the season?" he said, with a smile in his voice. "There's still some fight in our Dawgs yet."
Derek Johnson can be reached at derekjohnsonbooks@comcast.net

His website is www.derekjohnsonbooks.com

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