SEATTLE -- After all the preparation and the visits from the past greats of the Washington program to speak about the importance of the Apple Cup, Chris Petersen knew his team was primed unlike any other week this season.
The Huskies earned themselves one more game thanks to a complete drubbing of No. 20 Washington State.
"I know it was our most prepared game, emotionally," Petersen said. "I was really hoping they were going to play good because I knew that they were all it. It was good to see these guys be able to finish in the second half."
Led by Myles Gaskin's 138 yards rushing and two touchdowns, and the trio of Sidney Jones, Darren Gardenhire and Azeem Victor all returning turnovers for touchdowns in the second half, the Huskies pulled away for a 45-10 win over the Cougars on Friday.
Washington became bowl eligible by winning the Apple Cup for the sixth time in the last seven meetings with the Cougars. The Huskies slowed the best passing game in the country and took advantage of seven turnovers, the most committed by Washington State since 2009 against Hawaii.
"It meant a lot to us getting that sixth win," Washington linebacker Keishawn Bierria said. "Today we made a statement."
The Huskies (6-6, 4-5 Pac-12) benefited by the absence of starting Washington State quarterback Luke Falk, leaving freshman Peyton Bender to make the first start of his career. Falk missed the game after suffering an apparent concussion last week against Colorado and Bender looked the part of an inexperienced freshman. He threw for 288 yards and a touchdown, but also saw both of his interceptions returned for scores by the Huskies.
The Cougars (8-4, 6-3) were held more than 100 yards passing below their season average, although the absence of Falk was a significant reason why.
"We collapsed as a team," Washington State coach Mike Leach said.
Jones' interception was the most important of the three returns. With the Huskies leading 17-3 and Washington State driving, Jones jumped a pass in the flat and immediately thought "touchdown," weaving past Bender and returning the pick 69 yards for a 24-3 lead.
Gardenhire scooped up a fumble and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter after Washington State standout wide receiver Gabe Marks was bent awkwardly and appeared to suffer a right knee injury immediately dropping the ball.
And on the next play from scrimmage, Victor nabbed Bender's pass and returned it 27 yards for another score.
Eight times since Leach arrived Washington State has been held to 15 points or less. The Huskies own two of those performances, both coming in the past two meetings. Per STATS, it was the first time since at least 1996 the Huskies had three defensive scores in a game.
"All those turnovers, those scores, those guys played great," Petersen said.
Gaskin continued to add accolades to his freshman season thanks to a huge second half. Held to 29 yards rushing in the first half, Gaskin ran for 67 yards in the third quarter alone and plowed in for a 5-yard TD on the first play of the fourth quarter and a 31-10 Washington lead. Even with a bowl game remaining Gaskin posted just the 18th 1,000-yard season in school history and most ever by a freshman with 1,121.
Gaskin rushed for touchdowns of 2 and 5 yards and finished the regular season with 10 touchdowns rushing.
The Cougars will still be going to a bowl game for the second time under Leach but lost out on a chance at just the sixth 10-win season in school history and may tumble down the Pac-12 pecking order. The Cougars couldn't stop making mistakes on a day they needed to be close to perfect with Bender running the show.
Dom Williams dropped a potential touchdown on a screen pass on third down and the Cougars settled for a field goal on its opening possession. Erik Powell missed wide left from 42 yards on Washington State's next series and two fumbles inside Washington territory cost the Cougars chances at points later in the half. It was just the second time this season Washington State did not score a touchdown in the first half. Washington State finally got into the end zone with 4:14 left in the third quarter after Marcellus Pippins interception led to Bender's 1-yard TD pass to Williams.
"This one is disappointing. It definitely hurts, but you know we had a great year and we have a bowl game to look forward to," Bender said.
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