1997 Apple Cup: Cougars Smell The Roses For The First Time In 67 Years
Nov. 16, 2006
Editor's Note: This is the fifth 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: Washington State entered the '97 edition of the Apple Cup on the cusp of making history. It had been 67 years since the Cougars made the trip to Pasadena on New Year's Day. It would not be 68.
Check back to wsucougars.com Friday for part six of the Apple Cup series.
By Conor Laffey
Just one game remained in the schedule to determine if the Cougars would strut off the field with a flower in their mouth. Not just any flower, but a rose. Rose, by definition, is a flower of any such shrub, of a red, pink, white or yellow color. However, to the collegiate football world, it is used as the symbol of a champion--The Pacific-10 Conference champion.
The team standing in the way of the Cougars' trip to Pasadena since the 1931 Rose Bowl was their archrival Washington.
This wasn't the way it was supposed to be at the beginning of the season. The Huskies were the preseason picks to win the Pac-10 title. Entering their final regular season game the Huskies were sitting on a 5-2 conference record and in fourth place. The Cougars, expected to finish seventh, had a 6-1 record atop the Pac-10 tied with UCLA and Arizona State. The Cougars beat UCLA in the first game of the season but fell to Arizona State at Tempe and would need a win over the Huskies and a UCLA victory over USC for a Rose Bowl berth.
It seemed like the perfect upset was on the rise for the Huskies. The 11th-ranked Cougars hadn't beaten the Huskies since 1994, and it was little more than a decade since WSU last defeated Washington in Seattle. The difference from years past and this game was the Cougars' lethal weapon of All-American and Heisman Trophy finalist Ryan Leaf.
"There was no way we were going to lose to them," Leaf said. "There was no way we were going to lose to Washington. We worked too hard."
On a brisk 45 degree day and in front of 74,268 spectators at Husky Stadium, the Cougars quickly found themselves down 7-0 as the Huskies drove 71 yards on their first possession.
The second quarter contradicted the first as the Cougars scored 17 unanswered points. WSU tied the game with an eight-yard touchdown run by Michael Black. On the next possession, Leaf connected with Chris Jackson for a 57-yard touchdown pass with 9:24 left to play in the half. The Cougars tacked on a field goal with seconds left to head into the locker room with a 17-7 advantage.
The Huskies now were put in a position to play catch up the rest of the game. In the third quarter the Cougars intercepted Washington quarterback Brock Huard and on the ensuing drive, Black fumbled, but junior offensive lineman Rob Rainville recovered the ball in the Husky endzone to extend WSU's lead to 24-7.
The Huskies scrappy play led to a four-play touchdown drive, which cut the lead to 24-14. The ensuing Cougar possession resulted in a Husky interception and return for a touchdown. Suddenly, what seemed to be an untouchable 17-point lead was now cut to three at 24-21.
WSU responded when the Leaf-Jackson connection met up one more time for a 50-yard touchdown pass to give the Cougars a 31-21 lead with 3:58 left to play in the third. Jackson ended the day with eight catches for 185 yards.
At the end of the third quarter the Huskies again closed its deficit to three, but the Cougars scored two more times with a Leaf fumble recovery in the end zone and a Rian Lindell field goal to take a 41-28 lead.
The Huskies scored with nine seconds left in the game to reduce the Cougars' lead to six, but the comeback was not enough, as a failed onside kick confirmed the Huskies' fate.
After a UCLA 31-24 victory over USC, it was confirmed the Cougars owned the Pac-10. It was the first time the Cougars would be crowned Pac-10 Champions. Their reward was to represent the conference in Pasadena on New Year's Day.
The Cougars went on to face Michigan in the Rose Bowl and fell in a hard fought game, 21-16, to the eventual national champions backed by Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson.
The record setting team of that 1997 group not only did the unthinkable but set a trend and expectations for future Cougar teams to come. That group had a recruiting class that would later end the season with 10 wins.
The Apple Cup is arguably the biggest rivalry in the state at any level, but on that special day the Husky fans stayed to the bitter end to cheer the Cougars on.
When it was evident the Cougars were making their first trip to Pasadena in 67 years the rivalry stopped. For 10 minutes everyone was a Cougar. The Huskies have made several trips to California as Pac-10 Champs. Maybe they saw the heart of the Cougars or maybe, just maybe, they saw the Cougars were something special that year. Whatever the case, the Husky fans stopped seeing crimson and gray as hated colors but embraced the Cougars as they sent them off the field with an applause. Anyone at the 1997 Apple Cup has an unforgettable memory of when everyone at Husky Stadium was rooting for the same team.
WSU Head Coach Mike Price remembers the game as one of the favorite times in his life.
"The win over Washington in the 1997 Apple Cup put us in the Rose Bowl," Price said. "It was the most fun I've ever had in Seattle."
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