By Jason Krump
The Cougars' quest for an Apple Cup win, a Pac-10 Championship and Rose Bowl berth, and to make history, would take place on an overcast, wet afternoon, before a crowd of 74,268, the largest ever to attend an Apple Cup game.
Befitting the dreary conditions, things did not start out well for WSU.
On the Cougars' first possession, Ryan Leaf, who was returning to the venue where he made his first collegiate start in 1995, injured the thumb on his throwing hand when it collided with a Washington player's helmet.
"I dislocated it when it got caught in (linebacker) Jason Chorak's facemask; he took off and it dislocated," Leaf said. "Luckily, I was able to wear one of those hand warmers around my waist. I was able to hide my hand from Coach Price the whole game so he couldn't see how big my thumb was getting."
After forcing the Cougars to punt, Washington proceeded to move down the field on a 14-play 71-yard drive, which ended when Brock Huard connected with Jerome Pathon from 15 yards out to place the Huskies ahead 7-0.
On the Cougars' next offensive possession, three plays netted negative one yard, and WSU was forced to punt once again.
"To this day, it was still the funnest football game I have played in."
But on Washington's first play, Huard tried to take a shot deep downfield but was intercepted by defensive back Adesola Moronkola, foreshadowing the day to come for the Husky quarterback.
As the first quarter ended, the Cougars were in the process of taking advantage of the turnover with a 14-play drive of their own, this one covering 73 yards and ending with a Michael Black 8-yard touchdown run that tied the game at seven.
On the third play of the Huskies' ensuing possession, Huard once again tried to go deep only to find the same result as he was picked off for a second time, this time by Ray Jackson, giving WSU the ball at its own 30.
Three plays gained 13 yards, and the Cougar offense was faced with a third-and-13 at its own 43-yard line, thus setting the stage for one of the most memorable plays in WSU football history.
"That was an audible by Leaf," Chris Jackson said of a play that will forever be remembered by Cougar fans. "He looked over to his left and one of their defensive backs came up and pressed me at the line of scrimmage. Leaf just kind of gave me a look and made an audible.
"I knew I was going to run a quick little fade route and Leaf put the ball up," Jackson continued. "After I caught the ball I was able to get by the first defender (Toure Butler)."
But Washington free safety Tony Parrish had his sights set on Jackson, whose performance in the game would be under great scrutiny after his "bulletin board material" comments made earlier in the week.
"He was always the headhunter throughout his college career," Jackson said of Parrish. "I wasn't going to shy away and I just said to myself that I'm a bigger receiver, I'm just going to put all my weight down, put my head down, and I did it.
"All of a sudden, next thing I know, he was on his back," Jackson continued. "I was pulling my leg away from his arm and running it in for the remaining yards."
As fast as Jackson reached the end zone, he was just as quickly mobbed by his teammates and even Butch, the Cougar mascot.
"When Chris Jackson made that unbelievable catch on the sidelines, it just showed how the game was going to go that day," Jason McEndoo said.
Jackson's scintillating 57-yard touchdown reception gave WSU a 14-7 lead. Trailing for the first time in the game, the Huskies responded by driving to the Cougars' 22-yard line but Huard's third interception of the half, this one by Lamont Thompson, ended that threat.
Once again, the Cougars took advantage of the turnover and once again, used another 14-play drive to do so. Rian Lindell's 20-yard field goal capped a 17-point second quarter for the Cougars, who went into the half with a 17-7 advantage.
Huard started the second half as he ended the first, with an interception by Thompson. Thompson's second pick of the day was made possible when the ball went through the hands of Pathon. WSU capitalized on the Huskies' fourth turnover of the day, with the aid of a little luck.
On a second-and-goal from the three, Black fumbled at the two, but he the ball went forward into the end zone where offensive lineman Rob Rainville recovered, and WSU's advantage was extended to 24-7.
The Cougars were flagged for a personal foul on the extra point try, which was assessed on the kickoff. That set Washington up with good field position when Pathon returned the kick to Washington's 46-yard line. It took UW only four plays to score when Huard connected with Fred Coleman from 38-yards out to close to within 10 at 24-14.
Washington's deficit soon was reduced to three when, just three minutes later, Parrish read Leaf perfectly, intercepted his pass in the middle of the field and returned it 32 yards for a touchdown.
Suddenly, what had been a 17-point lead was trimmed to just a margin of a field goal. The capacity crowd, which had been muted for most of the game, was back into it.
Momentum was squarely in the Huskies favor; however, throughout the 1997 season, each time the Cougars were threatened, they answered. Whether it was against UCLA, USC, Illinois, Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State, or Stanford, the team found a way to respond when challenged.
"Every time they did something, we answered," Mike Levenseller said. "Ryan had that ability to put the team on his shoulders. It didn't matter what the circumstances were.
The Cougars' offense response to this adverse situation proved to be no different.
Starting their next possession at their own 20, Leaf connected with Kevin McKenzie for 18 yards on a third-and-nine. Two plays later, the Leaf-Jackson combination came through on another big play. Leaf's pass flew just over Husky cornerback Mel Miller and into the hands of Jackson, who raced down the right sideline for a 50-yard touchdown that extended WSU's lead to 31-21.
But Washington's offense had found its rhythm, and Huard hit Mike Reed for a 17-yard score to pull within three for a second time at 31-28 with 15 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
As the fourth quarter began, the Cougars were clinging to a tenuous three-point lead; either they were 15 minutes away from a historic victory or 15 minutes away from a devastating disappointment.
The Cougar offense made sure it would be the former. On the ensuing drive's first play, Leaf connected with Jackson for 14 yards, and that was immediately followed by a 37-yard run by Black, who finished the day with 170 yards on 37 carries. The eight-play, 66-yard drive was capped when, on a third-and-goal from the one, Leaf tried to sneak it in, and avoided disaster when he recovered his own fumble to score.
"It was exactly what we had done all year long," Leaf said. "Every time we were down in the hole we would push back through and got to the point where either it was win and go to the Rose Bowl or lose and don't."
This time Washington was unable to answer. A holding call negated a Huard to Pathon 22-yard connection that would have converted a third-and-12, and UW was forced to punt.
WSU's lead grew to 13 points on a Lindell field goal ending a 12-play, 62-yard drive. Just as importantly, it ate up 5:42 of the clock.
In addition, the score increased WSU's point total to 41; therefore fulfilling Jackson's Sunday prediction of the Cougars putting up 40 points on the Huskies.
"I had guys come up to me who played on past teams, saying, `You did it for us.' Person after person just kept coming up and saying that stuff. That's what made it so special."
Just over four minutes remained, and it was about this time the UCLA-USC game ended. The Bruins did their part to help the Cougars' cause with a 31-24 win over the Trojans.
"We knew that UCLA had won and Jim Zeches (outside linebackers/recruiting coordinator) and I were in the press box," Levenseller recalled. "They had the scores on a white board and nobody would talk about it. Jim and I were the only ones that knew. We looked at each other and didn't say anything to each other."
There were no announcements of the game score occurring in the stadium and both Levenseller and Zeches would not divulge what they knew, until asked to do so.
"Mike finally comes on," Levenseller continued, "and asked, `Does anybody know?' I said, `Mike we win, we go to the Rose Bowl,' and he said `OK.' That was it."
Also during this time, something unique was happening in the stadium . . . Husky fans were cheering for the Cougars.
"I can remember midway through that fourth quarter, we were in a tough situation and we made a first down and the crowd roar was unbelievable," Bill Doba said. "I think half of the Husky fans were for us too."
"It was almost like Rocky 4 where even the Huskies started cheering for us," Ryan McShane said. "It was a surreal moment to hear everyone cheering for us, Cougs and Huskies, it was pretty cool."
Any hopes for a Husky comeback were erased on Huard's fifth interception, by, once more, Thompson. In a performance that has lived in Apple Cup history, the freshman free safety registered three interceptions on the day, in addition to leading the team with 12 tackles (nine unassisted). Thompson, who didn't make his first start until Southwestern Louisiana due to injuries in the secondary, was coming off a two interception performance against the Cardinal the previous week.
The Huskies did manage a touchdown with nine seconds left on a Huard to Pathon 32-yard pass, but Shawn McWashington recovered the onside kick.
Just before Leaf took a final knee to seal the victory, the Husky public address announcer, Lou Gellermann, gave the result from the UCLA game that set off a roar from the crowd.
Once Leaf took the knee, a dream 67 years in the making became reality.
"Personally, it was a great feeling," Price recalled of game's end. "It was a special moment."
As fans rushed onto the field to begin what would be a frenetic celebration, Gellermann instigated another cheer when he said: "From the athletic department at the University of Washington: Washington State, good luck at the Rose Bowl."
"It was surreal to be partying on the field after the game," McShane said. "It was Crimson and Gray all over Husky Stadium."
The win was not only significant for what it meant for the players in the present Cougar team, but also players who wore the Cougar uniform in the past.
"The rivalry between the Huskies and Cougars, you either are or you aren't," said McEndoo, who hailed from Cosmopolis, Wash. "For me, growing up on the west side, and to beat them to go to the Rose Bowl was just awesome.
"I had guys come up to me who played on past teams, saying, `You did it for us,'" McEndoo added. "Person after person just kept coming up and saying that stuff. That's what made it so special. It encompassed the entire Cougar Nation. Every single person who ever donned the Crimson and Gray wanted to be part of that Rose Bowl."
"It was just a rush of feelings that you couldn't comprehend at the time," said Leaf, who threw for 358 yards despite the damaged thumb. "I didn't fully understand the ramifications of it; we were trying to be in the moment and accomplish what we needed to do.
"To be in Husky Stadium, where I made my first start in college and made my last start in college, not considering the Rose Bowl," Leaf added. "It was my favorite place to play. To this day, it was still the funnest football game I have played in."
While the Cougars were celebrating, one Husky, despite experiencing one of the toughest games in his career, waited to offer his congratulations to a coach who had recruited him.
"Brock Huard waited in the tunnel for me and I thought that was a class act," Doba said. "He waited in the tunnel probably 15 to 20 minutes. When I came in he said, `I wanted to congratulate you and good luck on the Rose Bowl.'"
And then there was Jackson. He provided scribes plenty to write and talk about before the game and provided the Husky defense all it could handle during. He finished with eight catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns.
"During the game, my best memories are of Chris," Steve Gleason said. "What a statement he made to back up his statements in the paper."
"That was the storybook ending," Jackson said. "A lot of people thought maybe a victory at the Rose Bowl would be, but the storybook was the Pac-10 championship.
"No one can take that away."
Relive the Roses
- Chapter 1: Motivation
- Chapter 2: Fourth and Roses to Go
- Chapter 3: The Catch. The Block. Vanquishing History.
- Chapter 4: The Nation Begins to Take Notice
- Chapter 5: Fabulous!
- Chapter 6: Getting Defensive
- Chapter 7: 63 and 6-0
- Chapter 8: In Elite Company
- Chapter 9: Fumble, Then a Recovery
- Chapter 10: Stepping Up to the Challenge
- Chapter 11: Memories of a Memorable Man
- Chapter 12: Confidence
- Chapter 13: A Storybook Championship
- Chapter 14: Leading up to New Year's Day
- Chapter 15: A Block that Lent a Great Assist
- Chapter 16: A Game 67 Years in the Making
- Chapter 17: Playing No. 1 to a Deadlock
- Chapter 17: Playing No. 1 to a Deadlock
- Chapter 18: To the Final Snap