PULLMAN, Wash. – For the fifth-year seniors on the Washington Huskies’ football team, this weekend’s trip to the Palouse will almost certainly be more comfortable than their first.
That maiden voyage, back in 2010, was made by bus.
Steve Sarkisian, then in his second year as UW’s coach, wanted the entire team to be in attendance for that year’s Apple Cup game at Washington State. So in addition to the usual travel squad, Sarkisian summoned buses to transport the rest of the Huskies’ roster across Snoqualmie Pass to get a taste of this rivalry.
That trip produced riveting memories, like this one from offensive lineman Colin Tanigawa: “It took forever. We watched Wedding Crashers like two times.”
The Huskies won the game that year, 35-28, to clinch their first bowl appearance since 2002. They lost in their last trip here, a 31-28 defeat in overtime in 2012.
So, for the lucky few who journeyed east via bus four years ago, consider Saturday’s game the grudge match.
The weather here on Saturday night might resemble what they saw that day, too. Temperatures are certain to be sub-freezing by the time the game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. – expect something in the 10 or 15-degree range by the time it ends – and Weather.com foretells a chance of snow earlier in the day.
Such conditions would surely revive memories of 2010, when snow turned to ice and some of that ice, predictably, found its way onto the field after being hurled there by enterprising young students.
Four years later, that doesn’t sit well with the few Huskies players who remember defensive tackle Semisi Tokolahi breaking his ankle, then WSU students pelting him with chunks of ice as he was carted off the field.
“I never forgot that,” said receiver DiAndre Campbell, a fifth-year senior from Oakland. “That stuck with me forever.”
Their memories of the 2012 game, then, are even less cheery. Washington led that game by 18 points in the fourth quarter before watching WSU quarterback Jeff Tuel lead the largest comeback in Apple Cup history, the Cougars forcing overtime before eventually winning it on a 27-yard Andrew Furney field goal.
The final score of that game was printed on a banner and posted in UW’s weight room during the offseason, a reminder of something they’d rather not let happen again.
“It’s definitely an important thing for us,” Campbell said. “It’s the biggest game of the year. At the end of the day, in their case, they’ve lost some games. But we know they’re going to come with their best. … When you play against your rival school, it’s on. You just bring it. It brings the best out of you. We know they’re definitely going to bring it.”
And the Apple Cup trophy itself will serve as the primary motivator for each of these teams. The Huskies (7-5, 3-5 in Pac-12) are already bowl eligible, so a loss wouldn’t do much to damage their postseason qualifications – and a win wouldn’t do much to help, aside from increasing the likelihood of being selected by a marginally better bowl.
The Cougars (3-8, 2-6), meanwhile, were eliminated from bowl contention nearly a month ago, and will be playing for pride alone.
But in this series, that’s always been more than enough to inspire competitive play – or even an upset.
And the benefits of winning can be far-reaching. Jeremiah Allison, a junior linebacker, remembers the mental push the Cougars received from the big comeback in 2012.
They turned the goodwill from that victory into what they believed to be a most productive offseason, then won six games the next year and played in a bowl game for the first time since the 2003 season.
“The Apple Cup is a game that, in my opinion, can dictate the next year for us,” Allison said.
As much as coaches might want to avoid placing more importance on one game than on any others, their players are unequivocal: the Apple Cup means more. It just does.
“They hate us, and we hate them,” UW receiver Jaydon Mickens summarized earlier this week. “That’s the way God wanted it.”
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple