PULLMAN – When Cameron Ward first visited the Washington State campus, he was immediately made aware of the importance of the Cougars’ series of rivalries with Washington.
The transfer quarterback went on a recruiting trip to WSU in January – just over a month after the Cougars snapped a seven-game skid against the Huskies, reclaiming the Apple Cup with a 40-13 rout in Seattle.
“That was the first thing Coach (Jake) Dickert showed me,” Ward said Tuesday. “He took me and my parents to the third floor, the trophy room, and he showed us the Apple Cup.
“He said, ‘We plan to have him stay here, if everything goes as planned. This is the first thing I (heard) of when I arrived here. I saw him in his office. I saw the history around her, the quarterbacks who won the Apple Cup. I’m trying to put my name up there as one of the quarterbacks who in their freshman year won the Apple Cup.
Ten months later and 11 games into his WSU career, Ward will make his Apple Cup debut when the Cougars (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12) host No. 12 Washington (9-2, 6-2 ) at 7:30 a.m. Saturday.
“To be able to play in a big rivalry game like this, for Washington State, and just try to win – that’s something that I know Coug fans want,” Ward said. “Hopefully we’ll get the job done.”
For WSU faithful, no other game evokes such strong emotions. They would all agree that there is no comparable happiness to beating the townspeople of the West Side. But there’s no bigger punch than losing to the school in Seattle.
“This game means a lot to the people of Washington,” said Ron Stone Jr., a fifth-year Cougar from San Jose, Calif. “Personally, I didn’t know much about it before coming here and now it’s one of those things you always hear about. It’s like the first question you get asked when you sign up: “Are you going to win the Apple Cup?”
“You just feel the emotion around it from the alumni, from the people on campus. You feel it from the state. Obviously there’s a different tension, but we’re doing our best to make sure not to be distracted by anything, and we play our style of football.
Keeping a cool head is crucial in rivalry games, so the Cougars are preaching calm this week and downplaying their 2021 win. But Dickert acknowledged the Cougars’ motivation “has increased a lot” as a natural response to preparing for a clash against their greatest enemies.
There’s no denying that the Apple Cup is hugely popular within the program. WSU’s roster includes 39 Washington natives. The Cougars football complex has two “Apple Cup countdown” clocks that run year-round. Dickert used the traveling trophy as a recruiting tool throughout the offseason.
“It brings out a lot more courage,” linebacker Travion Brown said of his UW showdown.
The Cougars finally captured Evergreen State’s bragging rights last year, and they’d hate to give it up so soon.
The rivalry has produced too much misery over the past decade for East Side program supporters nestled in the wheat fields. The Cougars have lost 10 of 11 games to UW between 2010 and 2019 — nine of them by double digits.
In 2021, their Apple Cup craving was finally satisfied. A veteran-laden WSU team capped off a regular season under its interim coach with a blowout from a UW team that also played under an interim coach and limped through the end of its worst season. for over a decade.
A few thousand Cougars fans stormed the field at Husky Stadium and former quarterback Jayden de Laura gave them a moment to remember, waving Ol’ Crimson at the 50-yard line before planting the flag in the middle of the purple “W” logo.
“We learned how much it meant to everyone,” Dickert said Monday of the 2021 Apple Cup, “to break the streak, to win through adversity and in unique circumstances.
“I thought they were playing ‘for free.’ going to be some of these things. These are not things that you encourage. These are things that you come to understand. So, enjoy the moment, be present in it. I know, when you talk to former Cougs, you don’t remember a lot of scores, but you do remember Apple Cups, and that’s what this group is excited about.
With a victory, Dickert would become the first Cougars coach to record wins in his first two Apple Cup games. WSU has not passed UW in consecutive seasons since 2007-08. Ward is looking to become the eighth WSU QB in the last 50 years to win his first game against the Huskies.
“I can really feel it around the guys,” Ward said of the Cougars’ anticipation ahead of the Apple Cup. “It’s big around the establishment. We’re just trying to keep that trophy here.
13 Cougars in the spotlight
WSU will honor a hard-hitting senior class before kickoff.
Players participating in the Seniors’ Night celebrations: Slot catcher Renard Bell, a seventh-year Cougar who is doubtful to play due to injury; splitback Robert Ferrel, a transfer from the Incarnate Word who ranks third on the team with 446 receiving yards in his first and only WSU season; nickel Armani Marsh, a sixth-grade Cougar from Spokane who had a two-steal day in last year’s Apple Cup and bagged All-Pac-12 honors; trade linebacker Daiyan Henley, a Butkus Award finalist, Senior Bowl guest and All-Pac-12 contender in his first WSU season; safety Jordan Lee, a transfer from Nevada who missed six games through injury this year but has a chance to return to the field this weekend; guard Grant Stephens, a year-round starter who was traded this offseason from northern Colorado; cornerback Derrick Langford Jr., a third-year starter who scored his first career touchdown last weekend on a pick-6; offensive tackle Jarrett Kingston, who was the Cougars’ most effective lineman until he suffered a season-ending lower-body injury Nov. 5 at Stanford; offensive tackle Jack Wilson, a backup who switched to football in 2020 after a two-year career as a Division I college basketball player; linebacker Ben Wilson, a reserve who does most of his work on special teams; and defensive tackles Christian Mejia, Amir Mujahid and Antonio Pule III.
“These guys have invested so much in this program and you really want to be able to honor them and play for them,” Stone said. “It’s the last time these guys are going to step on Martin Stadium or Gesa Field. … We’re just trying to make this last experience a great experience for them.
Kingston and Wilson walk with the seniors despite remaining college eligibility after this season. Both players are listed as redshirt juniors.