May 26, 2024

SEATTLE — Moments after kicking a 42-yard winning field goal as time expired in the Apple Cup on Saturday, Washington kicker Grady Gross found his mom on the field at Husky Stadium and broke down.

The 24-21 win had been an overwhelming ride of emotion for the sophomore walk-on — and it wasn’t over. Addressing the team in the locker room minutes later, Washington coach Kalen DeBoer made note that it was Thanksgiving weekend, setting up the life-changing news he was about to deliver.

“I’m thankful for Grady Gross and you know what I hope Grady Gross is thankful for?” DeBoer said. “The scholarship he’s earned.”

Gross’ emotions took over again, but this time he was mobbed by teammates in a raucous atmosphere, celebrating him and the culmination of a 12-0 regular season. Gross missed a 43-yard field goal in the second quarter and spent the rest of the game wanting a chance at redemption.

“I was jumping up on the sideline, ‘Get me in there,'” he said.

Gross didn’t know it at the time, but the coaching staff had already decided before the game he was going to be put on scholarship. DeBoer was waiting for the right moment to break the news.

“I think today was the right time to make that happen,” DeBoer said. “We knew sooner or later the time was going to come where we were going to recognize him, and our team just really believed in Grady. They love him.”

Gross’ opportunity to win the game came because of a risky — but successful — decision from DeBoer moments earlier.

Facing fourth-and-1 from their own 29-yard line, with one minute and 15 seconds left, DeBoer put everything on the line — the rivalry game, the undefeated regular season, possibly a berth in the College Football Playoff — and went for it with the score tied at 21. A failed conversion would have given the Cougars the ball in field goal range.

Initially, DeBoer sent the punt team on the field and had the unit attempt to get WSU to jump offside. When that didn’t work, the offense went back out to run an option play that had not been installed until early in the week.

“[Offensive coordinator Ryan] Grubb was talking about that play throughout the game saying that play was ready,” quarterback Michael Penix Jr. said. “And at the time we needed it the most, it was great timing.”

Penix could have handed the ball off straight ahead but read the WSU edge defender and opted to pitch it to receiver Rome Odunze on an end around. Odunze sprung free for a 23-yard gain to the WSU 48.

“Definitely kind of a risky call,” Odunze said. “But for me, every time we go for it, I’m like, ‘OK, let’s go get the first down.'”

After a roughing the passer penalty pushed the Huskies further into WSU territory, they ran five more plays — not including a made field goal attempt negated by a WSU timeout — before Gross hit the winner and fans rushed the field. Washington became the first — and will stand as the only — team to finish unbeaten in the conference’s 12-team era, which began in 2012.

The Huskies will play Oregon (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12) in the conference championship game in Las Vegas on Friday. Washington gave the Ducks their only loss of the season in a 36-33 thriller in Seattle on Oct. 14.

With Washington set to join the Big Ten next season, this was the final Apple Cup with both schools being part of the same conference. They will continue the series as a nonconference contest for at least the next five seasons.

WSU’s season ended with the loss. The Cougars (5-7) needed a win to reach bowl eligibility.

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