Thursday, December 2, 2010

Most controversial Apple Cup ever; flashback to 2002

By Kshell

Every rivalry game has their fair share of controversy where fans argue for the rest of their lives. The game I'm going to preview is no different depending on which side of the state you are on will reflect what you think of one call. Now games that are decided in three overtimes aren't won and lost by one play that is for sure. I'll examine the 2002 Apple Cup which saw the most energic Cougar crowd in Martin Stadium history.

The Cougar crowd was so energetic because they saw their Cougars reach the highest ranking in school history at third in the nation. In fact had Ohio State lost to Michigan earlier in the day the Cougars could be playing for a national championship. The Cougars were also looking to clinch their second Rose Bowl berth in five years after waiting 67 years prior to 1997. They Cougars for the first time in this rivalries history were an overwhelming favorite looking to beat the Huskies for the first time since 1997. The crowd was ready for this game in an atmosphere I haven't seen before or since at Martin Stadium for any game.

While the Huskies were quietly confident heading into this game. The Huskies were in the middle of a two game winning streak against Oregon State and destroying Oregon at Autzen Stadium. The Huskies were playing for something as well. The Huskies were playing for a "Northwest Championship" which was made up by Rick Neuheisel in an attempt to save the Huskies season who were 4-5(1-4) at the time. The Huskies passing game was setting records behind Cody Pickett who had broken Ryan Leaf's Pac-10 record passing yards in a season. His main target was Reggie Williams who had 11 receptions the previous Apple Cup over All-American cornerback Marcus Trufant.

This game had an edge to it unlike any other game. Big brother was down while little brother was up. Little brother was finally given a chance to only beat up big brother but to destroy big brother. Only like in life big brother wouldn't go down so easily. The Huskies weren't going to roll over to the Cougars like the Cougars had done the previous trip to Pullman losing 51-3.

November 23rd, 2002: Washington Huskies(6-5,3-4) at #3 Washington State Cougars(9-1,6-0)

In front of a great environment the Cougars wanted to clinch a Rose Bowl spot in Pullman for the first time ever. For the first time all rivalry all the pressure was on the Cougars and you could tell early on. Pac-10 co offensive player of the year Jason Gesser threw an interception to Huskies Owen Biddle which was returned 21 yards. After Cody Pickett hit a pass to Reggie Williams down at the one yard line Picket would rush for the one yard touchdown to give the Huskies a 7-0 lead. The Cougars would respond with a Drew Dunning 34 yard field goal to cut the Huskies lead to 7-3 at the end of the first quarter.

In the second quarter it appeared the better team was finally going to pull away as the Cougars scored two touchdowns. Jermaine Green scored a two yard rushing touchdown to give the Cougars their first lead in the Apple Cup since 1997. Just three minutes later Gesser would hit Sammy Moore from 67 yards to give the Cougars a 17-7 lead at halftime. The Huskies were having some missed chances as well blowing a fake punt, and John Anderson missing his first three field goals. The Cougars were slowing down the Huskies mighty passing offense.

In the third quarter Anderson would miss another field goal but due to a penalty would get another chance. On his fourth official try Anderson would kick the 35 yard field goal to cut the lead to 17-10. The Cougars Dunning would miss a short field goal in the third quarter. Late in the fourth quarter is when the game changed when Terry Johnson was chasing Gesser, he recorded his second sack of the game and in the process Gesser would suffer a high ankle sprain and had to miss the rest of the game. The Cougars still had a 17-10 lead at the time.

With just six minutes left in the game the Huskies punter dropped the ball in his own endzone and was tackled at the Cougars eight yard line. With the Cougars up 17-10 that appeared to be the game. Gesser's backup and Apple Cup 2000 starter Matt Kegel would take over the Cougars couldn't take advantage of the mistake would settle on a Dunning field goal to give the Cougars a 20-10 lead. With under five minutes to go the greatest Apple Cup comeback since 1975 happened.

The Huskies passing game finally got going again. Pickett started to just huck it up to Reggie Williams. The Huskies down 10 with less than three minutes to go were on their own eight yard line. After Pickett would get the Huskies to their own 37 yard line he would throw a pass to Reggie Williams who was double teamed and one of the defenders was Trufant which Williams went up and snatched for a 48 yard gain. After a roughing the passer penalty Pickett would hit Paul Arnold for a seven yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 20-17.

The Huskies would wisely kick it deep which saw the Cougars with a horrible return. After the Cougars had a false start they were facing second and 15 on their own seven yard line. In a decision that probably haunts head coach Mike Price he elects to throw a pass with his backup quarterback in his own endzone. In pass attended for basketball star Mike Bush it was intercepted by another future basketball star Nate Robinson. The true freshman who will always be in the Apple Cup history books had the biggest interception of his life giving the Huskies the ball on the Cougars 35. Pickett would drive the team down to the 10 yard line. He would hit Arnold right in the numbers for the game winning touchdown only Arnold would drop the pass. The Huskies were now hoping Anderson who was one for four at the time on field goals to tie the game up. Anderson would kick the 27 yard field goal with 15 seconds left to force overtime.

After trading field goals in the first overtime, in the second overtime the Huskies defense again held the Cougars miserable offense behind Kegel to a field goal giving the Cougars a 26-23 lead in the second overtime. The Huskies would get sacked and be forced to kick a 46 yard field goal, if Anderson misses the Cougars clinch the Rose Bowl and storm the field. Instead he nailed the kick which I never heard Martin Stadium go so quiet after being so loud. Anderson in the third overtime would drill another long field goal from 49 yards out to give the Huskies a 29-26 lead. Which set up Kegel and the Cougars offense. If the Cougars score a touchdown they win and clinch the Rose Bowl berth. Anderson after missing his first three kicks would make his last five field goals.

This play coming up brings up the most controversial call in the Apple Cup. Kegel on the first play was attempting to throw a wide receiver screen only the Huskies Kai Ellis who had two sacks already blew the play up by crashing through the line, tapping the Kegel pass then catching the pass but ultimately dropping the pass. Had Ellis simply caught the ball Gordon Riese life would have been made a lot easier. Now if a pass is a backwards pass that is considered a live ball which the Huskies had recovered. If the pass is a forward pass that is an incomplete pass and the Cougars would have second down. Then after two minutes of discussion Riese finally made the call.

"The ruling on the field is that it was a backwards pass, Washington has recovered that pass the game is over!"- announced by head referee Riese which saw the Cougar fans embarass themselves. First of all the Huskies players stormed the field because in the Neuheisel days the Huskies had zero class as well. The fans then soon followed celebrating on the Cougars 50 yard line and players were taunting Cougar fans. What followed next was a disgrace to the Pac-10 as Cougar fans started throwing beer bottles onto the field at the Huskies players and fans. The Cougars were stunned that the year they were ranked third in the nation they would yet again lose the Apple Cup for the fifth straight year. No player on that Cougars roster will ever get to say he beat the Huskies.

The Huskies were led by the passing duo once again. Picket would complete 35 of 57 passes for 368 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. He would also have added a rushing touchdown. His main weapon once again destroyed Trufant, Williams caught 12 passes for 169 yards giving him 23 receptions in two career games against Trufant. Gesser was enjoying a fine game before his injury completing 14 of 24 for 226 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The unsung hero's for the Huskies were John Anderson who after missing three field goals won Pac-10 special teams player of the week after drilling five in a row. Another one was true freshman Nate Robinson who would have a huge interception that gave the Huskies a chance to tie the score up.

The Cougars would go on to win behind an injured Jason Gesser who wasn't supposed to play against UCLA two weeks later to clinch the Rose Bowl. The Cougars head coach Mike Price would leave the school for Alabama but would hang around to coach the Rose Bowl anyways. The Cougars were destroyed by Oklahoma 34-14 in a contest that was never a game. Unlike 1997 this great Cougars team isn't talk about as much. Like I said the Cougars define their success on beating the Huskies and this team didn't beat the Huskies. Jason Gesser never beat the Huskies and they were destroyed in the Rose Bowl unlike 1997 when they went toe to toe with National Champion Michigan. The Cougars would win 10 games the following year but lose again to the Huskies in 2003. They haven't been to a bowl game since.

As for the Huskies nobody knew it at the time but this would be Rick Neuheisel's final win as Huskies coach. After blowing a 17-0 lead in the Sun Bowl to Purdue which led to a 34-24 loss the Huskies haven't been to a bowl game since. Neuheisel was fired in June for gambling allegations. Safe to say both programs would kill to be in a game like this. The Huskies have a chance this Saturday with a win to get back to a bowl game. The Cougars despite their poor record have a chance to make this season a "success". Remember in Pullman they don't care what their team does in the other 10 or 11 ball games they just care about the Apple Cup.

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