A Special Season
By Jason Krump
In early August, Mike Leach asked Bill Moos to address the Washington State football team about what it means to be a Cougar.
As he prepared to speak to the team in the Camp Room within the Bohler Athletic Complex, Moos didn't have to think long about what to say.
"I went in for 30 minutes and talked about the '72 team because that's what it means to be a Cougar," Moos said.
Now the WSU Director of Athletics, Moos was an all-conference offensive tackle on the 1972 team, a team that finished 7-4, its first winning season since 1965.
"I drew the parallels," Moos recalls of what he said to the 2012 Cougars, a team he sees many similarities with the '72 squad. "We were coming off a four-win season. The previous two seasons were one-win seasons. We were not getting respect.
"As a group we decided that's enough."
That was evident in the season's first game at Kansas.
At the site the Cougars were shut out 34-0 in the 1971 season opener, the Cougars seemed headed to a similar result a year later.
WSU was down 17-0 entering the fourth quarter, but 18 unanswered points, culminating with a two-point conversion with just over a minute left, and the Cougars had their first season-opening win in three years.
"We scored to make it 17-16 and there was no question we were going for the win," Moos remembers. "We found a way to pull it out and we were going to find a way to have a successful season."
"It was a testament to all of our grit," says quarterback Ty Paine of the win.
It was a win that served notice this was going to be a season unlike the recent past. After the Kansas win, that week's Evergreen headline stated, "Once toothless Cougars now Pac-8 contenders."
A three-game winning streak gave Head Coach Jim Sweeny's Cougars a 5-2 mark and just one win away from securing their first winning season since 1965.
The sixth win would not be easy to secure. The Cougars were heading into a brutal four-game stretch to finish the season against No. 9 UCLA, No. 1 USC, No. 20 and defending Pac-8 Champion Stanford, and No. 17 Washington.
Losses to UCLA and USC left WSU at 5-4 entering the Stanford game.
Playing in front of a capacity crowd in a renovated Martin Stadium, the Cougars secured their sixth win, and a winning season, by defeating the Cardinal 27-13.
"We took it to Stanford pretty good that day," Moos recalls. "We had the accomplishment of the winning season, but had one thing left."
That one thing was a victory over an 8-2 Washington team in the Apple Cup.
Played at Spokane's Joe Albi Stadium, in front of a regional television audience on ABC, the Cougars carried a No. 20 nationally ranking in the game and ended the season in grand style.
Down 10-3 at the half, Paine's 7-yard touchdown run in the third quarter sparked a string of 24 unanswered points by the Cougars as WSU defeated Washington, 27-10, to capture the Apple Cup for the first time since 1968.
The Cougar defense made life miserable for Washington quarterback Sonny Sixkiller all day. The WSU defense sacked Sixkiller six times, forced him into three fumbles, while Eric Johnson intercepted the Husky quarterback three times. Washington also lost five of six fumbles, had a punt blocked and finished with minus 11 yards rushing.
"We were on a mission and played almost a perfect game," says Moos. "It was a great victory over a real good team."
"We were all elated," remembers Paine. "To beat those guys after losing to them for so many years was a thrill, and to end the season with a win made it even more special."
This weekend, the 1972 team reunites 40 years later to relive special memories and undoubtedly look ahead to what the 2012 team can accomplish.
"I think there is the same type of character in this group," Moos says of the 2012 Cougars. "I think we've got a chance to have a real special year 40 years later."
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