It was worth the sweat for WSU

PULLMAN — It was going to happen again, and the Cougars Nation just knew it. The 18-point second-half lead wasn't going to matter, the season-long futility of the Huskies wasn't going to matter, the third quarter blowout-in-the-making wasn't going to matter.

Isaiah Stanback had just rallied the Huskies to 28-25 with 4:04 remaining, and any Cougar can tell you how endless the last four minutes is in an Apple Cup.

Right then, Robb Akey, hyper as four lattes, gathered the WSU defense on the sideline and made like Dr. Laura.

"Look at that scoreboard!" Akey instructed. "This is not gonna happen again. You're gonna win this game!"

At times, it seemed that WSU had to conjure up every crimson vibe from its past, from Babe Hollingery to Jack Thompson to Drew Bledsoe. But indeed, Akey was right; the Cougars exorcised the Huskies by that 28-25 score.

The program that went to three bowl games and won 30 games from 2001-03 but never won the Apple Cup, finished with five victories in 2004, and seemed simply delighted with it on a brisk evening on the Palouse.

A joyous throng of students moshed the Cougars in the postgame celebration, such a stark reversal from the alarming bottle-throwing bash here in 2002.

"These fans made me feel like I won the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl — the Anything Bowl," said a radiant Mkristo Bruce, the WSU defensive end. "To see how happy they were, it seemed like the season paid off."

It figured that if this Huskies hex was ever going to end, it would have to be a team thing that overcame it for the Cougars. So it was.

After Akey's attitude adjustment, the Cougars took the field at their 30, fully capable of caving into a fetal position. But Brink passed to Troy Bienemann on third-and-five for a first down, and two rushes by Jerome Harrison moved the chains again. Those five plays were magnum for the Cougars, who then were able to nurse the clock inside a minute despite a penalty-clogged finish to the drive.

A lot of folks saw a blowout going into this game, but there were reasons to think otherwise. The Cougars had the better team, but it was hardly a Lamborghini they were driving, more like a Honda. They didn't have a monkey on their back, it was a mastodon. And they had a redshirt freshman at quarterback, Alex Brink, whose only pelt on the wall as a starter was the ringing upset of UCLA.

Then WSU deepened its vulnerability with some dreadful aspects in the kicking game — trying pooch kickoffs that backfired, missing 34-yard field goals, letting pooch kicks bounce, allowing Washington's 78-yard punt to roll behind a return man and turn around bad field position. It was as if the gods were saying: You may survive, but you're gonna sweat.

But Brink, after some early, shaky throws, was nails, completing 15 of 24 passes for 240 yards, no interceptions and two touchdowns.

"I just feel blessed to be surrounded by these guys," said Brink. "To give these seniors this win."

Brink deflected the praise to the Cougars' playmakers, such as Jason Hill and Jerome Harrison, who ran for 150 yards in his third consecutive game over 100.

And so, when Akey's defense took the field, only 23 seconds remained, allowing the Huskies not a two-minute offense but a prayer. A combined sack from Bruce and Steve Cook, closing out his career at defensive tackle, in essence ended it.

On defense, the Cougars were No. 8 in the Pac-10 at 378 yards allowed per game, but they limited the Huskies to 248, even after Stanback's heroics. The 2004 model was not a vintage WSU defense, but on this night of deliverance, it took on some of its old elan, with four sacks for 47 yards, including Scott Davis' pivotal sack of Casey Paus for a fumble and a touchdown.

"I felt we had things pretty much under control," said Akey. "We didn't get a bunch of sacks, but there weren't a lot of complete passes, and I don't think the running game really hurt us."

Akey then tried to squelch speculation that he's headed to his alma mater, Weber State, to take over that program.

"There was a time being the head coach there would have been a good thing," he said. "But in I-AA football, there are lot of things you have to fight. To go back and fight some of those battles, I'd rather keep fighting with this job."

At least for a year, the fight won't include deflating memories of the Apple Cup.

"It's been miserable," Akey said, referring to the streak. "You take a lot of pride in what you do as a coach, and in the way we played our seasons. There's nothing more insulting than losing a game you're supposed to win."

A jocular Bill Doba, the WSU coach, interrupted as Akey addressed the Weber State job.

"My alma mater (Indiana) was open three times and I never got it," Doba said.

"Thank God."

On their night of retribution, you could almost hear untold thousands of WSU fans repeating those two words.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or

Apple Cup history
Washington State's victory yesterday ended a streak of six straight Apple Cup losses. The scores since 1990:
Year Score Site
1990 UW, 55-10 Pullman
1991 UW, 56-21 Seattle
1992 WSU, 42-23 Pullman
1993 UW, 26-3 Seattle
1994 WSU, 23-6 Pullman
1995 UW, 33-30 Seattle
1996 UW, 31-24 OT Pullman
1997 WSU, 41-35 Seattle
1998 UW, 16-9 Pullman
1999 UW, 24-14 Seattle
2000 UW, 51-3 Pullman
2001 UW, 26-14 Seattle
2002 UW, 29-26 3OT Pullman
2003 UW, 27-19 Seattle
2004 WSU, 28-25 Pullman