Washington St Washington Football

Washington State quarterback Jayden de Laura carries a Cougar flag on the field after WSU defeated Washington 40-13 in an NCAA college football game Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, in Seattle. 

They stood and stared.

Ja’Lynn Polk, Brendan Radley-Hiles, Trent McDuffie, Quentin Moore – each lingered near the west end of Husky Stadium, while Washington State fans cascaded out of the bleachers and into an impromptu mosh pit in the middle of the field. Adorned in purple jerseys and chrome gold helmets, the 4-8 Huskies were reduced to silent spectators – gate-crashers to a party hosted inside their own house.

Following WSU’s 40-13 Apple Cup win – the Cougs’ largest margin of victory in 114 meetings – quarterback Jayden de Laura stood amid the crimson bacchanal, an anointed conqueror, emphatically waving an oversized flag. The sophomore gunslinger planted it squarely in the Husky Stadium turf, a statement that will reverberate throughout the rivalry.

“They’re not going to forget this in Seattle,” Fox color commentator Petros Papadakis said.

Nor should they.

Let them remember.

Let that red flag fester, infuriate and motivate.

“It definitely sucks. I’ve never lost to them until tonight,” said sixth-year senior running back Sean McGrew, who won his first four Apple Cups. “And it being the last game, the last home game for both of us (McGrew and fellow running back Kamari Pleasant, sitting to his right), obviously you want to go out with a W and keeping that trophy here, because that’s where it belongs.

“But I guess it’s just a crazy season, and it would have been nice to end on a positive note. But (stuff) happens, and we can’t change it now. It’s definitely sad, but the young dudes will bounce back and they probably won’t let it happen again.”

Added Pleasant: “I definitely think they’ll take this as a lesson over just a loss.”

It should be much more than that. For the 36 scholarship freshmen who had never experienced an Apple Cup, it should serve as an indelible memory – a reminder of exactly what is required. It should propel them out of bed and into the weight room, blinking like a “no vacancy” sign in the back of their minds. It should linger, like a fog over Lake Washington, proof that – seven-game win streak aside – the Apple Cup trophy must be continually earned.

It should hurt. It should haunt.

Only then will it help.

“(I don’t care) that I’m young, I WANT TO WIN NOW, I WANT TO DISPLAY TO THIS TEAM WHAT I CAN DO!” second-year freshman running back Jay’Veon Sunday tweeted Friday night. “Just know us as players gone turn this around!”

Added redshirt freshman defensive lineman Faatui Tuitele: “This will change next year. I’m tired of this.”

It will only change if they make it change.

McGrew knows that better than most.

“At the end of the day, it’s just taught us to be more resilient,” the sixth-year senior said of his final season in Seattle. “You can’t win everything. You can’t win every year. It shows that it is really tough to win 10-plus games every season and be on top of the Pac-12. It’s a good league, and it takes a lot. We obviously came up short, and it’s disappointing. But at the end of the day, it’s taught us how to be better humans and better teammates and better ballplayers.”

UW’s next head coach – whoever he is – should help with that.

But Friday, McGrew admitted there’s “definitely a little bit of nervousness in the program and with the team with who they’re going to get in here and what’s going to happen and how things are going to go. But we’re all dawgs, and we’re all resilient. Regardless of what happens, I know they’re going to make the most of their opportunities and control what they can control and be their best selves.”

They were not their best selves at many points this season – during the Montana loss, and the Michigan loss, and the Oregon loss, and the Apple Cup loss. A season that started with Pac-12 title hopes ended with firings, coaching searches and a comprehensive collapse.

So they stood and stared; they needed to see. They needed to place both feet on the bottom before beginning an agonizing trudge to the top.

Today, that red flag is a symbol of squandered potential.

Tomorrow, it might be a turning point.