As I rolled into Pullman, Washington on Saturday, a perfect afternoon for football greeted me. It was homecoming on the Palouse as the Washington State Cougars would be looking to win their 10th straight home game, and taking on the Utah Utes. Both teams were coming off disappointing losses. The Utes had dropped their Pac-12 opener to Washington at home, while the Cougars were coming off a heart breaking loss at USC. The game would feature the Cougar’s top-ranked passing game versus Utah’s top-ranked defense. A near sell-out crowd was on hand to witness QB Gardner Minshew put on a show for the hometown fans.
WASHINGTON STATE FOOTBALL BEGINS
William Goodyear led Washington Agricultural College to It’s first ever win in 1894, when they defeated Idaho 10-0. Eleven days later the Cougars lost their first game, losing 18-0 to a team from Spokane High School, finishing the 1894 season at 1-1. Over the next 11 years the Cougars deployed eight coaches. The first paid head coach was William L. Allen in 1900. Over two seasons, Allen’s teams posted a 6-3-1 record. William Henry Dietz put the Cougars on the national landscape in 1915. His team finished the season 7-0 and defeated Brown in the Rose Bowl. Under his guidance, the Cougars won their first ever Pacific Coast Conference Championship in 1917, finishing 6-0-1. Dietz was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
Babe Hollingbery coached the Cougars for 15 seasons, from 1926-42. Under his guidance, the Cougars did not lose a home game from 1926-35. His 1930 team went to the Rose Bowl, where they were defeated 24-0 by Alabama. Hollingbery leads Cougar coaches with a 93-53-14 record. The Hollingbery Fieldhouse serves many of Washington State’s athletics teams, and was named in his honor in 1963. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979.
The Jim Walden era began in 1978, when he took over a program that had struggled for years. Walden quickly led the Cougars back to a bowl game for the first time in 51 years. The 1980 season was a special one for the Cougars, when Walden led the team to the Holiday Bowl, where they were defeated by BYU 38-36. Walden was named Pac-10 coach of the year for his efforts. He left the Cougar family after the 1986 season to take the head coaching job at Iowa State. In 1989, Mike Price came to Washington State from Weber State. Price may be the most beloved coach in Cougar history, leading Washington State to unprecedented success. Price lasted 14 years on the sidelines, posting a 83-78 record, and took his 1997 and 2002 teams to the Rose Bowl.. He led the Cougars to their highest ever ranking — No.3 in the AP poll during the 2002 season. After that season, he resigned after that season to accept the head coaching position at Alabama, where he would never coach a game after being involved in an incident at a strip club.
Mike Leach was hired in 2012 and has led the Cougars for the past seven years. The iconic Leach seems to be a perfect fit here. He brought his “Air Raid” offense with him from Texas Tech. He was named the Pac-12 coach of the in 2015 and parlayed that success into a contract extension that takes Leach through the 2020 season.
FUN FACTS ABOUT WASHINGTON STATE FOOTBALL
- Washington State is 7-7 lifetime in Bowl games.
- The Cougars have won only four Conference titles, 1917, 1930, 1997, 2002.
- The mascot is the very popular Butch T. Cougar.
- Four Cougars are in the College Football Hall of Fame. They include, Rueben Mayes, Mike Utley, Mel Hein and Turk Edwards.
- Two players have had their numbers retired, 7 Center Mel Hein, number 7 and Quarterback Jack Thompson, number 14.
- The Cougars play their home games at Martin Stadium. The Stadium opened in 1972 seating just 20,600. Renovations in 2003, bumped the official capacity to 33,522, but Martin Stadium remains the smallest venue in the Pac-12.
Washington State has an insanely intense rivalry with the Washington Huskies. The game is known as the “Apple Cup”. The game is now played Thanksgiving weekend each season. The game was first played in the year 1900. The first game in 1900 resulted in a 5–5 tie. The series has been played continuously since 1945, when there were two games, one in Seattle and one in Pullman. There have been many notable games in the series. My favorite memory was a triple overtime thriller in 2002, a Husky victory 29-26. The 2008 game featured a 1-10 Cougar team facing a 0-11 Husky squad, in what was dubbed “The Crapple Cup.” The Cougars were victorious in double overtime 16-13. The Huskies lead the All-Time series 72-32-6.
The Cougars and the University of Idaho also share a long-standing rivalry. The game is known as the Battle of the Palouse. The two land-grant universities are only eight miles apart. The first game was played in 1894, which was the Cougars first ever game. The Cougars lead the All-Time series 72-16-3. From 1938 to 1968 there was a unique tradition called “The Losers Walk.” Following the game students from the losing school would walk to the winners school, then get a ride back from the winners side. In 1954 the walk made national news when about 2,000 students from Washington State made the trek east from Pullman to Moscow after the Cougars lost to Idaho for the first time in 29 years.
Quarterback Gardner Minshew shredded the top ranked defense in the country for 445 yards and three TDs, leading the Cougars past the Utes 28-24. Both teams traded punches in a wild first half, that ended with a 21-21 draw. The Utes used a suffocating defense in the second half to shut down the Cougars “Air Raid” offense.
“Our defense studded up in the second half,” said Utah Head Coach Kyle Whittingham. “One big play was obviously the back breaker.” Matt Day had booted a 41-yard field goal early in the third to give Utah a 24-21 lead. Utah punter Mitch Wishnowsky continually kept the Cougars backed up inside their own 10-yard line. Minshew facing a 2nd and six from his own 11, dropped back to pass and found Easop Winston streaking down the right sideline, with just four minutes left in the game. Winston caught the ball over his shoulder, made a couple of sweet moves and raced 89 yards for the winning score.
The win was the tenth straight home win for the Cougars. The longest since the 1933 season.