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Saturday, November 22, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Bob Condotta
Maybe, instead of their two teams' respective fight songs, the Washington and Washington State marching bands should perform "The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon" when the players for both teams hit the field for today's Apple Cup.
Because a more fitting theme song for today's 3:30 p.m. kickoff probably can't be found.
For WSU, it is the last chance for what is the most accomplished senior class in its football history to do the only thing it has yet to do and the one thing that usually defines WSU senior classes beat the Huskies.
Even though WSU has won 29 games the last three years, and can become only the second team in conference history to win 10 games in three consecutive seasons, this group of Cougars has never beaten the Huskies. Washington has won the last five in the series, the last two years as underdogs, which will be their role again today. The Cougars are favored by seven, the biggest underdog UW has been for a home Apple Cup since 1973 (not a good omen for UW considering that game ranks as the Cougars' biggest win in the history of the series, 52-26).
"I think everyone takes this game personal because we haven't beaten them," said WSU quarterback Matt Kegel, one of 14 seniors scheduled to start today. "But you have to understand we have to go out there and attack this game like every other game. We can't go out there thinking if we lose this game it's going to be the end of the world.' "
Even if it might feel like it if they lose it again.
For UW, meanwhile, it is the last chance to avert its first losing season since 1976. UW has had 26 straight non-losing seasons, the fourth-longest active streak in college football and longest in Pac-10 history.
"I don't want to be a part of something like that," said Washington senior linebacker Greg Carothers. "I don't want to be a part of the team that loses the streak."
Both teams also have tangible postseason goals on the line today, as well. Washington State can clinch at least a share of its second straight Pac-10 title and take a huge step toward landing a spot in a BCS bowl, preferably the Rose Bowl. The Cougars' final destination will depend on how USC does in its final two games and the ranking of both teams in the final BCS standings.
Washington, meanwhile, has a remote chance at landing a bowl game if it wins today. A victory would put UW at 6-6 and the Huskies would be assured of a spot in a bowl game if both Stanford and California lose one more game. (The Huskies need Stanford to beat California today and the Cardinal to lose to Notre Dame next week.)
If the Bay Area teams don't cooperate, Washington's only bowl chance would be to win today while UCLA loses to USC and then get picked ahead of the Bruins for the Pac-10's slot in the Silicon Valley Classic. That seems unlikely, however, given the Bruins' win over the Huskies earlier this year.
While the Huskies and Cougars may share similar goals in wanting to avoid a little personal infamy, they enter today's game on stunningly divergent paths.
Washington State played what coach Bill Doba said was one of its complete games of the season last week against Arizona State, a 34-19 win in which the offense, defense and special teams all pitched in. That came on the heels of a dominating win over UCLA the week before.
The Huskies, meanwhile, are coming off one of the worst games in school history, a 54-7 loss to Cal in which they allowed a school-record 729 yards. That came on the heels of a stunning fourth-quarter collapse the week before against hapless Arizona.
All of the Cougars have said the predictable, that they are sure the Huskies will turn it around and play well against them today.
"It doesn't matter how the Huskies are doing this year," Kegel said. "They are going to come out wanting to beat us."
But many of the Huskies say they don't feel like simply winning today will wash away the bad taste of the rest of the season.
"For anyone to say that if we win against Washington State, the rest of the season is cool. No, that's not cool," said offensive tackle Khalif Barnes. "By no means does it equal the games we lost."
For the Cougars, it is almost exactly the opposite sentiment by no means will all the other wins of the season make up for a loss today.
Said fifth-year senior center Mike Shelford: "Just to have that feeling of beating the Huskies. I want to know what that's like."
He's got one last chance to find out.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com
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