Gaskin-led Huskies shrug off blizzard, storm past WSU

James Snook photo

Apple Cup victory earns UW league title game berth

On a wintery Friday night in Pullman, Martin Stadium turned into Snoqualmie Pass. Snow fell nonstop and covered everything. In a matter of minutes, conditions turned treacherous.

The 16th-ranked Washington football team wasn’t worried at all—it just popped open the trunk and pulled out Myles Gaskin. The senior running back proved as effective as a nice set of traction tires, finding enough footing to break an 80-yard touchdown run late in the game, pile up 170 yards and three scores for the night, and steer his Huskies to a 28-15 victory over No. 7 Washington State in the 111th Apple Cup.

“He’s our best player,” UW coach Chris Petersen said. “When we need something to happen, we turn to Myles.”

The outcome enabled the Huskies (9-3 overall, 7-2 Pac-12) to advance to the league championship game for the second time in three seasons. They will face Utah (8-3, 6-3), a team they defeated 21-7 nine weeks earlier in Salt Lake City, with a Rose Bowl berth on the line Friday in Santa Clara, Calif.

For the Cougars (10-2, 7-2), it was another huge disappointment in this high-stakes rivalry game. They've failed to make it to the Pac-12 championship game now in back-to-back seasons. They lost for the sixth consecutive year to the Huskies. WSU likely will be relegated to the Fiesta, Alamo or Sun Bowl, a lesser reward from the national playoff or Rose Bowl hopes it harbored at kickoff.

Gaskin, who became the first Pac-12 player and 10th in NCAA annals to rush for 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons, was a confident player entering the state showdown. Lose to the Cougars? C’mon.

“It wasn’t going to happen,” Gaskin said, going 4-for-4 in the Apple Cup. “I had a ton of fun in it. It is what it is.”

In a sense, this was 26-year-old payback by the Huskies, who were headed for the Rose Bowl in 1992 but lost to WSU and Drew Bledsoe 42-23 in near identical conditions in the same stadium.

This time, WSU’s vaunted Air Raid passing attack was neutralized by the heavy snow flakes, wind gusts and slick surface. The Cougars, who never led, were outgained 487 yards to 237 in total offense, and Gardner Minshew, the nation’s leading passer, was limited to just 152 yards through the air and intercepted twice. The Mississippi man with the famous mustache looked downright ordinary as he tried to deal with the unfamiliar weather conditions.

“We had a lot riding on this game,” Minshew said. “Big goals that we have set for ourselves kind of depended on the outcome of the game and we just felt like we let each other down.”

The game started off with each side looking uncomfortable. WSU went three-and-out. The UW drove to the Cougars 10 only to have quarterback Jake Browning throw an end-zone interception to Skyler Thomas. WSU fumbled the ball away at the Huskies 12 on a fourth-and-1 play.

Browning, however, made no more mistakes. He led the Huskies 67 yards down the field in six plays for their first score, coming on a 5-yard TD run by Gaskin with eight seconds left in the first quarter. When he wasn’t handing the ball to his running back, Browning was efficient in the passing game, completing 11 of 14 attempts for 207 yards. He expressed satisfaction with the way things turned out.

“I hate the Cougs,” he said. “It’s always nice to beat them.”

The Huskies upped the lead to 14-0 in the second quarter when Browning rescued a high snap and slipped the ball to Gaskin, who broke a tackle and scored again from 5 yards out.

WSU finally got going when Travell Harris returned the ensuing kickoff 47 yards to the UW 49 and reached the end zone on James Williams’ 11-yard run with 4:54 left in the half. On the following kickoff, the Cougars recovered a fumble that set them up at the UW 26, looking for an equalizing score, but Byron Murphy intercepted Minshew three plays later.

Coming out of intermission, the Huskies set the tone for the rest of the game by driving 75 yards in four plays to score on a trademark Petersen trick play. Browning tossed the ball backward to wide receiver Aaron Fuller, who lobbed the ball to a wide-open Hunter Bryant for a 22-yard TD, this coming a play after the big tight end and Browning hooked up on a 59-yard pass completion. Hunter, out most of the season with as knee injury, makes the UW a different team.

The Cougars, however, weren’t ready to roll over—they blocked the conversion kick and Hunter Dale caught the ball and returned it the other way for two points to narrow the deficit to 20-9.

Later in the quarter, WSU recovered a Browning bobble on the Huskies 23 and Williams cashed in the turnover with 1-yard TD run, pulling the Cougars within 20-15.

Entering the fourth quarter, the snow didn’t let up and neither did Gaskin. On third-and-1 from the UW 20, the senior tailback shot through the line on a counter play and raced up the sideline untouched until he carried a Cougar defender over the goal line. Gaskin had only open spaces in front of him once offensive tackle Trey Adams and tight ends Drew Sample and Cade Otton totally cleared out the left side. Adams, appearing in just his second game after recovering from back surgery, played three quarters in relief of starter Jared Hilbers, who went down with a leg injury.

The Huskies closed out the game by driving from their own 17 to the WSU 5, running the final 8:47 off the clock in an impressive display.

UW cheerleaders celebrated by lying down and rotating their pompons through the white stuff that coated the field. Gaskin pulled off his shoulder pads and playfully threw snowballs at his teammates. Players passed around the Apple Cup trophy in the end zone. The snow fell for another hour before finally letting up.

For the Huskies, they survived a night in subarctic conditions usually reserved for Alaska that will bring one, maybe two, big games in much warmer California temperatures. And they’ll do it with Gaskin, their man for all seasons.

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