1988 Apple Cup: Second-Half Rally Propels Cougars To 32-31 Win
Nov. 14, 2006
Editor's Note: This is the third installment of a six-part series featuring the most memorable games of the Washington State-Washington football rivalry, universally known as the Apple Cup.
Apple Cup Series
The 99th meeting in the series, which dates back to 1900, will kickoff at 3:45 p.m., Saturday, November 18, at Martin Stadium.
Today's Feature: Down by 12 at the half of the 1988 Apple Cup, Washington State mounted a stirring second half comeback, highlighted by a fourth quarter blocked punt, to defeat Washington and propel themselves to the program's first bowl game since the 1981 Holiday Bowl.
Check back to wsucougars.com Wednesday for part four of the Apple Cup series.
By Amanda Piechowski
In the 106 year history of the Washington State-Washington rivalry, 46 games have been decided by 10 points or fewer. The 1988 Apple Cup was an edge-of-your-seat thriller that kept players, coaches, and fans alike guessing on what the outcome of the game might possibly be.
It was WSU's first winning season in four years as second year head coach Dennis Erickson had led the Cougars to a 7-3 overall record. The Cougars had been riding a three-game winning streak jumpstarted by a 34-30 victory over UCLA, the top-ranked team in the nation at the time. They entered the game with a No. 19 national ranking.
Behind quarterback Timm Rosenbach and running back Steve Broussard, the Cougar offense seemed unstoppable. Rosenbach was leading the nation in pass efficiency and was fourth nationally in total offense while Broussard was first in the Pac-10 in all rushing categories. With those kinds of stats, WSU should have cruised to victory. Right? Wrong. The Cougars, down by 12 at halftime, staged one of the most remarkable comebacks in WSU football history and turned the 1988 Apple Cup into one of the most unforgettable nights in college football.
On a frigid, snowy, late November afternoon in Pullman, 40,000 fans gathered at a sold-out Martin Stadium for the showdown. That Saturday in 1988 marked the 81st meeting between the two teams, and the Huskies were looking for their third consecutive victory over the Cougars.
The Cougars struck first, scoring off a Jason Hanson field goal two minutes into the first quarter. But the Huskies, looking for that third straight win, slowly began to dominate the game. After scoring four touchdowns, interrupted periodically by a few Cougar scores, the Huskies took a 28-16 lead into the locker rooms at halftime.
"It's a typical Apple Cup game," said former Cougar tight end Doug Wellsandt. "It doesn't matter if the teams are 0-12 or 12-0. There's just so much excitement and hype. Coach Erickson didn't have to say anything to us. Everybody knows. It's the game that you don't want to lose because it's for pride."
On paper, the offensive game of both teams looked fairly even. Both teams had posted 12 first downs, and WSU owned more rushing and passing yards than Washington. Yet with one interception and five fumbles on the Cougar end, the team knew their task was simple: just hold onto the ball.
The teams re-entered Martin Stadium and with the blow of the first whistle, the Cougars' renewed spirit and determination slowly led to one of the greatest comebacks in WSU and Apple Cup history.
On their first possession, a Jason Hanson field goal shaved three points off the Husky lead. The Huskies were forced to punt on their first possession after a holding penalty forced them to second-and-19 and a Mark Ledbetter sack took them back another 11 yards.
The Cougars' momentum continued to increase with their second possession of the third quarter. A combination of running and passing plays brought the WSU offensive line to the one-yard line before Rich Swinton ran straight down the middle into the endzone.
The score was now Huskies 28, Cougars 26. WSU had pulled within two points and there was still another entire quarter to be played.
"We didn't want to get carried away with doing things [differently]," said WSU Head Coach Dennis Erickson in a post-game interview. "The worst thing you can do in those situations is panic and start throwing it all over the field. You end up second and 10, third and 10, then you punt. We just felt we had to come back slowly and not get out of our game plan, which we didn't."
The Huskies refused to back out slowly. In the first few seconds of the final quarter, UW increased their lead to 31-26 with a 20-yard field goal by John McCallum.
As Washington prepared to leave Pullman with their third consecutive Apple Cup victory, Cougar defensive back Shawn Landrum made the play of the game by blocking a Husky punt and the Cougars recovered it at the Washington 13-yard line.
The WSU offense moved the ball downfield to the five-yard line. With nine minutes left in the game, quarterback Timm Rosenbach ran the remaining yards into the endzone and, even after a failed two-point conversion, it was suddenly a brand new ball game. Cougars 32, Huskies 31.
"We had the option to run or pass," said Erickson after the game. "I didn't think about kicking. I just felt we were down there and had to get in. We had some momentum going."
Now that the Cougar offense had performed their job perfectly, it was time for the famed WSU defense to step in and finish the task at hand. Coming into the game, Artie Holmes ranked fourth in the Pac-10 in interceptions. He and teammate Tuineau Alipate ranked fifth and ninth, respectively, on WSU's career tackles list.
The defense performed impeccably. On every remaining possession, Washington was either forced to punt or simply turned the ball over on downs. As the clock wound down, Cougar fans knew they were about to witness one of the greatest Cougar victories of all time.
In all, the Cougars limited Washington to one field goal and 93 yards total offense over the final 30 minutes.
The final whistle blew. After just over three hours, the Cougars had reclaimed the Apple Cup.
"I can't say enough about our players and what they did," said Erickson after the victory. "Our defense in that fourth quarter was just flat out amazing. Three opportunities and they just flat shut `em down. Offensively, we came back in the second half, particularly in that third quarter, and played like we're capable of."
The Cougar victory was one for the record books. With 148 passing yards, Rosenbach broke the WSU single-season passing record with 3,097 yards and eclipsed John Elway's Pacific-10 Conference record. Jason Hanson's two field goals and pair of successful PAT attempts gave him a total of 85 points over 11 games, breaking the WSU single-season record.
With the win, the Cougars were Aloha Bowl-bound and would beat the Houston Cougars 24-22 in Honolulu, Christmas Day. It was the first bowl game for WSU since the 1981 Holiday Bowl season. WSU finished its season with a 9-3 overall record, their best record since that 1981 season.
The 1988 season still stands as one of the most prolific in WSU football history. Yet, nothing stands out in the minds of Cougar fans like the Apple Cup win that year.
"This is a real happy feeling," said defensive tackle and Tacoma, Wash., native Mark Ledbetter. "I live with all of these guys. I'll be having a good time strutting Crimson and Gray, Monday night."
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