Just like it was yesterday

Associated PressAlex Brink holds the Apple Cup trophy as he celebrates Washington State’s 42-35 win against Washington in the Apple Cup on Nov. 24, 2007, at Husky Stadium in Seattle. It was the Cougars’ last road victory in the series.

SEATTLE — On the final play of his college football career, in an unfriendly environment called Husky Stadium, Alex Brink dispensed with caution and obeyed his instincts.

The Washington State quarterback knew Brandon Gibson was sprinting downfield mainly as a decoy, not as the primary target. But he also knew a blitzing Husky safety was charging straight at him from Gibson’s side of the field.

He wasn’t entirely sure the receiver would be open, but there wasn’t time to calculate the odds. He truncated his bootleg motion, swiveled his hips and released the ball just before getting leveled.

Um, yes, Gibson was open. Decidedly open. During the previous 12 years of Apple Cups, has another Cougar receiver ever been as open as Gibson was at that moment?

The future NFLer welcomed the ball into his hands at the goal line with 31 seconds on the clock, the Cougars won 42-35, and Brink became the first (and still the only) Wazzu quarterback to beat the Huskies three times.

That also was the last Apple Cup here that left the Cougars feeling anything but miserable.

They’ve never scored more than 21 points in the five ensuing games since. They’ve never allowed fewer than 27. They’ve lost by 30, 17, 10, 35 and 27 points. It’s as if the Huskies still were feeling the embarrassment of leaving Brandon Gibson open. Still in payback mode.

The jinx, of course, is hardly confined to games here. The Cougars are mired in an overall six-game losing streak in the Apple Cup, and they’ll try to end the stretch of futility today in the 112th edition of the intrastate rivalry. Kickoff is 1 p.m. at Husky Stadium (Fox).

Brink went on to spend several years in the Canadian Football League and now is the color commentator on WSU football radio broadcasts. But he retains vivid memories of the 2007 game, particularly of that 35-yard touchdown pass to Gibson.

“We came out of a timeout and we were actually running a play that was going to set up a field goal, or least get us closer for one,” Brink said by phone this week.

“It was pretty simple — fake a run, bootleg out to the left. I remember being set to call the cadence and I see the linebackers on the left side creeping up, and I realized they were going to blitz. I knew I wasn’t protected. I really didn’t have any options. I was thinking of throwing it quick to (Michael) Bumpus, and out of the corner of my eye I saw the safety come screaming down.”

So his thoughts turned to Gibson, with whom he had connected for a 40-yard score earlier in the fourth quarter, erasing a seven-point deficit.

“It was sort of a tough throw,” Brink said of the game-winner. “I took a hit and was on was on my back, and I was just thinking, ‘I hope nobody else is back there.’

“But that’s kind of the nature of the position,” he said of playing quarterback. “I like to tell people it’s a series of educated guesses. That one was right.”

The game was the swan song for Cougars coach Bill Doba, 67 at the time, who was feeling the heat of four consecutive bowl-less seasons. A few days later, he and the school would announce a mutual decision to part ways, but the game’s outcome had given him a winning record as head coach, not to mention three Apple Cup triumphs.

Reached by phone at his home in Michigan, Doba, now 79, said he particularly remembers the aftermath of the go-ahead touchdown as the Huskies threatened to retaliate. Someone snapped a photo of him watching a critical play with then-offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller.

“It was a fourth-down play and they’re throwing the ball into the end zone,” Doba said, recalling the moment with his usual comedic self-deprecation. “Somebody took a picture of Levenseller and me. I’m looking at the ball that’s in the air, and there’s a look of fear and terror in my face — ‘It’s time for me to get the hell out of here.’

“That was a great win for us,” he said. “It was a good way to go out.”

Of course, current WSU coach Mike Leach isn’t facing job insecurity. But there are nonetheless echoes of 2007 in the Apple Cup air this year.

For one thing, it’s a post-Thanksgiving Friday game. Before 2007, Apple Cup games had been played before the holiday (generally five days before), but that contest 12 years ago began a new arrangement — Friday or Saturday games after Thanksgiving — that in many ways has affected preparation and perhaps the game itself.

Another coincidence: The Apple Cup combatants again are bringing identical, disappointing records into the game. In 2007 they were 4-7 overall, 2-6 in Pac-12 play, and staying home for the holidays. This year, both are going bowling but disappointed nonetheless at 6-5 and 3-5.

One more echo: WSU running back Max Borghi’s recent predictions recall Bumpus’ guarantee of a Cougar victory in 2007. Borghi guaranteed a win against Oregon State in the home finale last week, and the Cougs narrowly delivered, 54-53. Afterward, Borghi declined to forecast an Apple Cup score but added mischievously, “I’m going to score — a lot.”

The 2007 Cougars also had played Oregon State in their final home game. That one didn’t go so well. Brink threw six interceptions and Wazzu lost 52-17. So Brink had no problem playing on a Friday the next week.

“I remember, for me personally, how that senior night went against Oregon State, and I was just fired up to have another game,” he said. “I was champing at the bit to get back at it.”

This time, Washington coach Chris Petersen is singing the same tune.

“It’s a short week,” he said Monday. “We don’t have to sit around feeling sorry for ourselves.”

The Huskies are favored today, just as they were a dozen years ago. That wound up adding to Brink’s satisfaction. It was his senior year, it was Seattle, he’d been the underdog, the win was dramatic — there were several reasons he wound up borrowing a teammate’s camera and taking a photo of the Husky Stadium scoreboard.

“I mean, there’s no doubt … this will stay in my memory,” he said afterward. “But I want a big poster of that scoreboard.”

He made that happen. The poster still is in his possession.

Grummert may be contacted at daleg@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2290.

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