PULLMAN – The Washington Huskies are either going on a Holiday or remembering the Alamo in their first postseason appearance since 2002.
And it was Chris Polk who carried them there with a dynamic performance to lead the Huskies to a 35-28 win over the Cougars in an exciting 103rd annual Apple Cup that wasn’t decided until the final minute.
Polk was unstoppable by a WSU run defense that ranks among the worst in the country, scoring two touchdowns, including a 57-yarder early in the fourth quarter, and also turning in a 36-yard run that set up Washington’s winning score.
The Huskies, who watched a 14-point lead on three separate occasions disappear, finally took the lead for good on a 27-yard pass from Jake Locker to Jermaine Kearse with 44 seconds left.
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Polk finished with 284 yards on 29 carries, just shy of the school record of 296 set by Hugh McElhenny in the 1950 Apple Cup.The win was the third straight to end the regular season for UW and leaves the Huskies at 6-6 — their first non-losing regular season since 2003.
And it also means UW will go to a bowl game, either the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio on Dec. 29, or the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 30.
The Huskies will find out officially where they are going by Sunday night at the latest, though the decision could be made earlier.
UW finishes third in the Pac-10 standings at 5-4 and is one of just four bowl eligible conference teams.
Washington won three games on the final play to set up having a chance at a bowl.
The Apple Cup was only slightly less dramatic.
After WSU was stopped on a fourth down at the 42 early in the fourth, Polk ran 57 yards for a TD with 13:18 to play to put the Huskies ahead 28-14.
WSU cut the lead to 28-21 on a 1-yard run by QB Jeff Tuel with 8:46 to play, and the Cougars then got the ball back at their 27 with 7:20 left and moved 73 yards in six plays. Tuel hit Marquess Wilson on a slant in front of Quinton Richardson with 4:26 to play to tie it at 28-28.
The Huskies started the winning drive on their 12. After Locker ran 10 yards for a first down, Polk went over the right side for 36 to cross midfield.
Erik Folk then lined up for a 49-yard field goal with 1:21 to play. But as the play clock was running out, UW called time out and decided to go for it. Polk then ran over the right side for 17 yards to get the first down and Locker hit Kearse for the winning score two plays later.
WSU finishes the season 2-10 and is 5-32 in three years under coach Paul Wulff, whose future remains in doubt with athletic director Bill Moos saying he would evaluate Wulff’s status at the end of the season.
After the Cougars closed to 14-7 at halftime, UW appeared to regain command on the first possession of the second half as Locker hit Kearse on a 66-yard touchdown to make it 21-7. The play came on third-and-five as UW caught the Cougars in a blitz and Kearse turned a short pass into a long gain.
The Cougars, however, responded with a 57-yard drive and scored on a 14-yard pass from Tuel to Daniel Blackledge to make it 21-14 with 5:53 left.
The Cougars then held the Huskies, missing a chance to get an interception around midfield when two WSU defenders couldn’t control a tipped pass.
But WSU couldn’t move and on the first play of UW’s next drive, Polk took a handoff and rumbled 72 yards to the Cougars 3-yard line.
Two UW penalties moved the Huskies back and UW faced a fourth-and-goal at the WSU 1 to start the fourth quarter.Washington coach Steve Sarkisian decided against a field goal that would have put the Huskies ahead by two possessions.
After changing ends of the field, Locker fumbled the ball as he tried to pull it away on an exchange from Callier, the ball rolling back 10 yards, where WSU’s Kevin Kooyman recovered it and returned it to the WSU 49, tackled by UW guard Ryan Tolar, who likely saved a touchdown.
The Huskies dominated most of the first half but held just a touchdown lead at the break after WSU turned UW’s lone turnover into a quick touchdown.
The two teams sparred a couple times during the pregame warmup, mostly some jawing and finger-pointing and no punches. Still, it indicated the heightened emotion of this game with the high stakes for the Huskies, and UW came out early looking like it wanted to end matters early.
The Huskies drove 98 yards on 16 plays the first time it had the ball to take a 7-0 lead, overcoming a holding penalty that negated an apparent 77-yard TD run by Locker.
The Huskies eventually scored on a 2-yard run by Polk, who dominated the drive with eight carries for 54 yards.
WSU, after getting three first downs on its drive before punting, spent most of the rest of the half going nowhere, gaining just 55 yards until the final two minutes of the half.
That allowed the Huskies to establish some early control, even though UW’s offense stalled some after the first possession.
The Huskies scored again in the second quarter on a 7-yard run by Locker with 6:42 left that followed a 30-yard pass completion on a fake punt from Kiel Rasp to Jermaine Kearse. Locker scored on the next play.
When UW got the ball back and quickly moved into scoring position, the Huskies appeared in position to take complete control.But a Locker pass intended for Devin Aguilar in the end zone was intercepted by WSU’s Deone Bucannon with 1:41 left in the half.
And the Cougars, who had somewhat oddly seemed content to run the ball a lot until then, finally unveiled its passing game and moved quickly down the field. Tuel was 4 for 4 for 44 yards on the drive and also ran twice for 19 yards, eventually hitting Jared Karstetter from 5 yards out to make it 14-7 at halftime.
Washington, which led at the end of the first quarter for only the second time all year, had a 235-135 edge in yards at halftime.