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November 30, 2010Steve Sarkisian stumbled out of the gate, calling it Apple week, then quickly corrected himself before addressing a room full of media about the special game that awaits his Washington Huskies football team.
Sarkisian's Apple Cup rustiness on Monday could be forgiven given only his second season with the Huskies. Clearly, the dramatic way in which he has commanded his team in recent weeks, including Saturday's gutsy final-play thriller over Cal, Sarkisian could have called this week's in-state rivalry between the Huskies and Washington State Cougars the "Cranberry Bowl" and probably gotten away with it.
Three weeks after his team seemed to be broken, Sarkisian's Huskies have found a new gear and put together two straight impressive victories to create a new buzz and add significance to this Saturday's Apple Cup in Pullman.
The Huskies (5-6) can secure their first bowl berth since 2002 by defeating the Cougars (2-9) in a game that will kick off at 4 p.m. at Martin Stadium and will be shown locally on Versus television.
"Obviously, we'd all like to get to a bowl game," Sarkisian said. "But more than that, this week, is playing the Apple Cup. And I don't want to lose sight of that. I don't want to say we're playing Washington State to get to a bowl game; we're playing Washington State for the Apple Cup, for everything that households get divided across the state of Washington for."
This will be the 103rd Apple Cup, and considering the ramifications for the Huskies, this will be a bowl game of sorts for the Cougars as they look to play the role of spoiler.
How sweet a victory would be for the Cougars, who fell victim to the Huskies, 30-0, at Husky Stadium last season in the first Apple Cup shutout since 1964.
Still, several current Huskies don't have to look too far back to remember the painful Apple Cup losses in 2007 and 2008.
The Cougars' 2008 victory happened the last time the teams played in Pullman and was a 16-13 double-overtime Husky heartbreaker, helping cement Washington's 0-12 season.
"Records don't really matter in games like this," said Huskies quarterback Jake Locker, whose cousin, Casey Locker, plays safety for the Cougars. "It's not relevant. It's two teams that have a lot of history and mark it on their schedule every year. And I think the atmosphere and how excited all the fans get creates an atmosphere and environment that anything can happen."
Locker, who led the Huskies to the winning drive in the final minutes of a 16-13 victory over California Saturday, expects the Cougars to be gunning hard for them.
He'll go into this game with a cracked rib on the mend. And hopes to come out of it leading his team to a date in the Holiday Bowl, or Sun Bowl, or whatever bowl a victory might bring.
The Cougars will have had three weeks to rest up and wait for their visitors from the west.
In WSU's last game, on Nov. 13, the Cougars defeated Oregon State, 31-14, to snap a 16-game Pacific-10 Conference losing streak.
WSU's previous conference victory?
That double-overtime win over Washington in 2008.
Notes: Huskies punter Kiel Rasp, who suffered back spasms after getting blocked hard to the turf against Cal, is expected to play against Washington State.
Offensive tackle Senio Kelemete, who has started every game for the Huskies this season, injured his foot on the final play against Cal and his status is unknown for the Apple Cup. Kelemete, whose foot was placed in a boot, has shown tremendous progress, Sarkisian said.