There was little for Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel to do when Washington lined up for an attempt at a winning field goal with the Apple Cup tied at 28.
After all, just 15 minutes prior, Washington State was down by 18 points heading into the fourth quarter. In a season full of darkness and devastation for the Cougars, the next natural step seemed to be the heartbreak that could be delivered by Travis Coons’ right foot from 35 yards away.
Five seconds remained in Senior Day. Five seconds remained before Washington could exhale, lament letting the game get so close and smile about the program winning the most games it had since 2001.
So, Tuel huddled with teammates. He chose to pray instead of watch.
Then, Ryan Masel’s snap was low. Huskies holder Cody Bruns stood the ball upright and Coons swung his leg. The clock clicked down. Coons’ kick fluttered into a light wind at Martin Stadium and drifted wide right. On to overtime.
Keith Price threw an interception on the first play that WSU nose tackle Kalafitoni Pole picked off and nearly returned for a winning touchdown. The Cougars’ Andrew Furney kicked a 27-yard field goal four plays later for a 31-28 victory Friday that set off a manic celebration in the crisp air after the largest comeback in Apple Cup history.
A large chunk of the 30,544 in attendance streamed onto the field. Many Washington players jogged off, some trudged toward the locker room. Meanwhile, the record keepers were busy.
No team had trailed by 18 points at any point and come back to win any of the previous 104 Apple Cup contests. Washington tied a 36-year-old school record by committing 18 penalties. The rally was Washington State’s largest fourth-quarter comeback since trailing Cal 19-0 with 10:14 to go on Sept. 7, 1985. Washington State coach Mike Leach was a 24-year-old law student then.
“It’s a feeling I’ll never forget, seeing that kick going through the uprights,” Tuel said.
He may well be speaking for the Huskies, too.
Washington (7-5 overall, 5-4 Pacific-12 Conference) put on a third-quarter push that put the Huskies in control. They scored 21 points in the third, appearing to put an uneven first half behind them.
Bruns caught a 15-yard touchdown from Price for a 14-10 lead. Bishop Sankey scored on 2- and 1-yard rushes to put UW in front 28-10 with 53 seconds to go in the third quarter.
Washington State did plenty to help the Huskies take command after the Cougars held a 10-7 halftime lead. Tuel fumbled, was intercepted and wide receiver Bobby Ratliff also fumbled during the game-changing third quarter.
Washington’s first scoring drive after halftime went 87 yards in 13 plays. The next two combined for 14 points in just seven plays covering 23 yards because of the Cougars’ turnovers.
Washington countered in the fourth quarter with its own litany of errors, although everyone on the Huskies said afterward they never sensed complacency despite the large lead.
When Carl Winston scored on a 2-yard run for WSU with 10:41 remaining in regulation, the stadium remained subdued. But, Price fumbled away possession on the ensuing drive, putting Washington State into UW territory.
The Cougars zoomed down the field thanks to Tuel’s footwork and Washington’s game-long penchant for committing penalties. Tuel escaped a sack when he pivoted away from defenders before holding himself upright by putting his bare hand and the ball on the ground. He finally found Isiah Myers on the play for a 29-yard gain. Right after Tuel’s release, Washington defensive end Andrew Hudson hit him in the face, drawing a roughing-the-passer penalty.
“When you upset teams, sometimes you need a couple of those types of plays and they got those tonight,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said.
Shortly after, Winston was in the end zone again to cut Washington’s lead to 28-23. The Cougars went for two and failed, but a pass interference call on Marcus Peters gave them another shot. This one worked, when Tuel connected with Brett Bartolone. Washington State was three points behind, bringing alive Martin Stadium and staggering Washington.
A three-and-out possession by the Huskies followed, leaving Washington State 5:04 to tie or win the game. Faced with a fourth-and-1 play from the Washington 28, Leach opted for a 45-yard field goal try by Furney, who came in 4-for-7 this season from 40-49 yards out.
He cleanly converted, setting up Washington’s final march that would end with Coons’ miss before overtime.
Washington lost the coin toss prior to overtime – nearly everything was going against the Huskies at that point – and the Cougars chose to defend. While being yanked on, Price decided to loft the ball instead of taking the sack. Pole grabbed it and took off for the end zone, but he was tackled by Bruns 70 yards later. Because of overtime rules, the Cougars started at the 25-yard line and needed just three plays to align Furney down the middle of the field for the winning kick.
The Huskies dressed in a quiet and sullen locker room before ducking out to the waiting bus. Cougars fans filled stairwells with celebratory and derogatory chants while Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” played.
“This one’s going to sting, I’ll be honest with you,” Sarkisian said. “When you have a loss like this, a game like this in a rivalry game, this one will sting and this one will hurt probably more than a day.
“We’re lucky that we don’t play in seven days.”
Neither do the Cougars (3-9, 1-8). Their first tumultuous season under Leach closes with a stunning win – their only victory in conference play – over their archrival.
“We had a lot to play for, honestly,” Tuel said. “This was our bowl game.”
That’s all that remains for Washington following its historic collapse on the Palouse.