Jacob Eason needed one yard. He got much more than that.
With 3:53 remaining in the first quarter of the 112th Apple Cup on Friday, Washington’s 6-foot-6, 227-pound quarterback huddled under center at the Cougar 3-yard line. On third-and-1, he took a snap, lowered his shoulder and burrowed to purple turf. His offensive line pulverized an overmatched enemy front, and Eason tumbled three yards deep in the end zone.
This was a literal and figurative breakthrough for the sputtering home state signal caller. It was therapy disguised as a quarterback sneak — an adrenaline-pumping catharsis. After tunneling through a sewer of foul-smelling disappointments against Utah, Oregon State and Colorado, this was a desperate patch of daylight.
Before emerging from the mosh pit, Eason ripped off his golden helmet. He rose to his feet and released a guttural growl, all while keeping the football clutched tight against his chest.
In a 31-13 Apple Cup win over Washington State, these Huskies brought both bark and bite.
That started, of course, with Washington’s redshirt junior quarterback. In his first Apple Cup as the Husky starter, Eason completed 15 of 22 passes, throwing for 244 yards and accounting for two touchdowns. He dropped an effortless rainbow to wide receiver Terrell Bynum for a 57-yard gain. He found Bynum again in the second quarter for a 16-yard touchdown, the first score of Bynum’s UW career. He willed his way into the end zone for the aforementioned three-yard sneak-and-score.
But, when it came to big plays, Eason wasn’t alone. Freshman cornerback Trent McDuffie forced a pair of fourth quarter turnovers on Friday. The first came on the Husky 9-yard line, when McDuffie demolished WSU running back Deon McIntosh and simultaneously dislodged the football. If the play had not been blown dead, UW senior safety Myles Bryant would have undoubtedly returned it for an untouched touchdown.
On the following drive, McDuffie struck again. Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon sailed a sidearm pass intended for wide receiver Davontavean Martin, and McDuffie leaped to intercept it and return it 29 yards to the Cougar 40-yard line. After being tackled, McDuffie kept right on running 40 yards into the end zone.
And why not? He certainly deserved to score.
Washington’s defense sacked WSU quarterback Anthony Gordon five times as well. Outside linebacker Joe Tryon got to him twice, while Ryan Bowman and Edefuan Ulofoshio added 1.5 sacks apiece.
This was a Cougar offense, by the way, that entered Friday’s affair allowing an average of 1.18 sacks per game — tied for first in the Pac-12.
Washington’s offense inexplicably struggled on the ground, finishing with just 90 rushing yards and 3.5 yards per carry. But redshirt freshman running back and certified red zone specialist Richard Newton excelled in that role, plunging into the end zone from one and two yards out, respectively.
Of course, Washington State’s air raid offense could not be completely silenced. Gordon completed 48 of 62 passes for 308 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. Sophomore running back Max Borghi compiled 36 rushing yards, a rushing touchdown and nine catches for 45 yards.
But it wasn’t enough. For seven consecutive seasons, it hasn’t been enough. Eason trampled Washington State’s hope on his way to the end zone.