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Great (and not so great) moments in bowl game history

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Photo courtesy of Washington State University Athletics
Washington State University Athletics

We are a mere two days away from the Holiday Bowl. Your Washington State Cougars are up against the Michigan State Spartans, in case you forgot already.

The Cougs will play in their 14th bowl game and third in a row. It's the second straight season they find themselves in the Holiday Bowl and fourth time they've played in this bowl game.

In terms of bowl games, there are wonderful memories and brutal memories. Such is life as a Coug fan.

We're not going to include the 1916 and 1931 Rose Bowls. Anybody still around that have memories of those games?

OK, let's get to it.

Great!

First touchdown of the 1998 Rose Bowl

Ah yes, the 1998 Rose Bowl. Perhaps the greatest moment of WSU's bowl history.

Despite the final result (we'll get to that later), qualifying for the Rose Bowl was an incredible achievement for Washington State. Picked seventh in the Pac-10 preseason poll, the Cougs lost only to Arizona State in the regular season and clinched the Rose Bowl berth at Husky Stadium.

I was in fifth grade when this all went down, but I have fond memories of decorating the house with those crimson "Go Cougs" cards The Spokesman-Review gave out to its Spokane-area subscribers. I got tons of Coug Rose Bowl gear for Christmas that year and the morning of Jan. 1 was the first time I ever remember feeling nervous ahead of a Cougar football game. You could say it was my baptism, perhaps.

I kid you not: My dad bought a big screen TV solely for the purpose of watching this game. Hey, it was the 90s and the economy was humming.

I've met some folks over the years that were at this game and they've all told me the coolest moment was when WSU came out of the tunnel prior to kickoff. They told me the vibe in the stadium—one that could have been all Cougs if it were allowed—was incredible. Little Washington State from little Pullman, Washington was in the Rose Bowl. Amazing.

On WSU's third drive Ryan Leaf hit Kevin McKenzie for a 15-yard touchdown, giving WSU an early 7-0 lead. The sideline erupted, the fans went wild, and my living room was full of Coug fans going crazy.

Dec. 30, 2003: WSU 28 Texas 20

If WSU's Apple Cup win in 1997 was the biggest win in school history, this one is right behind it.

The Texas Longhorns were all hot and bothered because they weren't selected for a BCS bowl, while WSU was coming off (another) lousy Apple Cup. But the Cougar defense wasn't something to ignore, and it's offense could be lethal when clicking on all cylinders.

WSU used a big third quarter to win this one. They were down 10-7 at halftime and scored three touchdowns in the third quarter: a 54-yard bomb from Matt Kegel to Sammy Moore in which Moore managed to say in bounds, a 12-yard score on a direct snap to running back Jonathan Smith, and a Jason David 18-yard scoop and score.

Texas scored with 4:29 to play but the Cougar defense held strong and chased Texas quarterback Chance Mock as time wound down.

Punter Kyle Basler was the game's MVP so it was full team effort in this one.

The 2015 Sun Snow Bowl

The Cougs were assured of their first winning season since 2003 and were riding sophomore quarterback Luke Falk in the snowy conditions in El Paso, Texas.

The Cougs struck early with a 31-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Jamal Morrow. The Cougar defense played a big role in this one, grabbing two interceptions and a Miami fumble. The first interception came in the end zone and the second one by Shalom Luani sealed the win when Miami elected to have its running back throw the ball, for some reason.

Marcellus Pippins recovered a fumble as Miami was knocking on the door, too.

The win gave WSU a 9-4 record—its best since 2003. It was also the team's first bowl win since the same year.

Kicking off a string of 10-win seasons

If you knew nothing about the 2001 Sun Bowl but were told that Purdue's Kyle Orton would throw for a Sun Bowl record 419 yards on another Sun Bowl record 74 pass attempts, you'd assume Purdue won going away.

As Coug fans know, those gaudy numbers don't guarantee success.

Yes, Orton throw for a lot of yards but WSU also forced him to throw four interceptions. Lamont Thompson and Jason David each had two picks.

Jason Gesser played injured and threw for 137 yards in the third quarter alone to help WSU out of a halftime hole. The Cougs wound up winning 33-27 and started a three-year stretch of 10-win seasons. Times were good!

Not so great :(

Cougs return to a bowl game after 50-year drought

The Cougs were back bowling after a 50-year streak of no postseason football. Yeah, there were fewer bowl games back then, but still.

Under Head Coach Jim Walden, the Cougs finished 8-2-1 in the regular season and were rewarded with a date with BYU and quarterback Jim McMahon. They fell behind 24-7 at halftime and then 31-7 in the third quarter after Ron Holmoe returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown.

The Cougs finally woke up and scored the game's next 21 points before BYU's extended its lead to 38-28. WSU scored with 5:12 to play and converted the two-point try and found themselves down two. They'd get the ball back but elected to punt with a little more than three minutes. The Cougs would never get the ball again as BYU ran out the clock.

In his book Tales from the Washington State Cougars Sideline, Walden lamented his failure to prepare his team for the Holiday Bowl. Walden said since it was the first time bowling in 50 years, the approach to the game was more celebratory rather than being focused on BYU. He was proud, though, about his team's second half performance.

Oh, and fun fact: BYU brought in its backup QB for a brief time. It was a guy by the name of Steve Young. You may have heard of him.

Wilted Roses

If the lead up to the 1998 Rose Bowl was the most exciting moment in WSU's history, the lead up to the 2003 Rose Bowl was the opposite.

There was Mike Price's departure to Alabama and then him coaching the Rose Bowl as a lame duck, and there was the ticket fiasco. And then there was the opponent.

Oklahoma had a dominant defense and it showed. The Cougs were down 17-0 at halftime and 20-0 after the third quarter. They'd score 14 points in the fourth quarter—including an 89-yard Sammy Moore kick return—but it was way too late.

Oklahoma won 34-14 and WSU went forward with Bill Doba as its head coach.

The ending to the 1998 Rose Bowl

The whole There are still two second left in the 1998 Rose Bowl! trope from a segment of Coug fans got old on Valentine's Day in 1998.

But we can still lament how that game ended. There's no saying WSU would have won had they been able to run one final play. But there's no saying they wouldn't have won, either. We'll never know.

As we all know, Ryan Leaf lined up under center with two seconds left. They snapped it and Leaf spiked it. The officials ruled that WSU didn't spike it in time and the game was over. It wasn't until 2013 that the NCAA made a rule for this kind of situation, saying a team must run a play if there are fewer than three seconds left in a half. So, you can't spike it with two seconds left, like we saw at the Rose Bowl.

Sigh.

The collapse in Albuquerque

Blech.

Whatever last year's Holiday Bowl was

Had James Williams' first quarter touchdown not been called back due to holding, this would have been a much different game. At least that's what I try tell myself.

We don't need to go into any detail for this one. I'll let our friend Gabe Marks have the final word:

"We sucked. Our offense was horrible today. It was our fault."

Now, who's excited for Thursday?!?!?!


As always, feel free to bring up other games I didn't include, like the 1988 Aloha Bowl, the 1992 Copper Bowl or the 10-3 win over Baylor in the Alamo Bowl (Bonus Dave Sims!).