Cougars’ Lobbestael looking for a bite of the Apple

This was not the way Marshall Lobbestael’s 2009 season was supposed to go.

For the third time in as many appearances at the annual Apple Cup, the Washington State quarterback will be on the sideline this Saturday afternoon. He sat out his true freshman year as a redshirt. He was on crutches last November, thanks to knee surgery. And this time around, he’ll watch from the sidelines as Kevin Lopina returns to the starting role that Lobbestael once held.

“I’ve been really close to the action,” Lobbestael said this week of his Apple Cup experience thus far. “I hope maybe I’ll get to get out there somehow this week.”

A native of Oak Harbor, Lobbestael has long been waiting for the day when his parents, Ric and Dessa, could make the short trip to Husky Stadium to watch him play. That day will come this weekend, although it seems unlikely that the redshirt sophomore will get into the game.

Lopina, a senior who transferred from Kansas State, has been named the starter for the annual game against the University of Washington. Injured freshman Jeff Tuel could also get some snaps if he makes it through the practice week without re-injuring his knee.

And then there’s Lobbestael, who has six career starts, including the Cougars’ lone win of 2009.

“I’m a competitor, and any competitor wants to be on the field,” Lobbestael said this week. “I didn’t perform as well as I can when I had the chance, so I can’t wait to get back out there.

“At the same time, I just want to get a win. As long as we get a win, that’s all I care about.”

Lobbestael, who tore three ligaments in his right knee during a loss to Oregon State last year, was essentially named co-starter alongside Lopina when the 2009 season opened. The duo split time in the Cougars’ first two games before Lobbestael earned his first start of the season in a late September game against SMU. He completed 24-of-52 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns in an overtime win — WSU’s only victory this season.

But he completed just 2-of-9 passes against USC the following week and was benched in favor of Tuel, a prized freshman from Fresno. Tuel hung on to the starting position for five weeks before suffering a dislocated kneecap.

In his return to the starting lineup, Tuel threw three interceptions on his first six attempts against UCLA and was benched again, this time for Lopina.

Now Lobbestael’s back holding the clipboard for the Cougars (1-10).

“I had pretty high expectations for myself going into this year, and I know I haven’t lived up to them, for whatever reason,” Lobbestael said this week. “I thought I was ready. But so far, I haven’t played up to my expectations.

“I just want to finish the season strong, so I want to play well Saturday — if I get the chance.”

While Lobbestael isn’t the type to search for excuses, WSU coach Paul Wulff provided one this week when he pointed out that it takes almost a year to fully recover from the knee surgery Lobbestael had at the end of October 2008 after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament and meniscus.

“It just takes time to mentally bounce back,” Wulff said this week. “I think he’s struggled with some of that this year, and I knew he was going to have some of that. But I know he’ll get it behind him, whether it’s in this last game or going into next year. He’ll take a big step as a player.”

Lobbestael thought this was the year he was going to take a big step forward. But it hasn’t worked out, and now he’ll have to come back to this side of the state as a backup on the Pac-10’s worst team.

“A lot of us have never lost like this,” said Lobbestael, whose Oak Harbor team went 25-3 and won a state title during his final two years of high school. “It’s telling me to be tough, to keep my head down and keep working. There were times I played horrible, but my teammates have been real supportive.

“I just have to keep on trucking. I know that things are going to work out.”

Notes

WSU athletic director Jim Sterk told The Spokesman-Review newspaper the 2010 Apple Cup will be played in early December. Wulff has talked in the past about the difficulties of playing the annual rivalry during Thanksgiving week, but UW coach Steve Sarkisian said Wednesday night that he doesn’t mind the holiday preparations. “I’m used to it,” he said. “In football, this is normal. This is what we do. That’s part of this profession: you deal with playing Thanksgiving weekend.” Next year’s Apple Cup, which will be played in Pullman, is expected to be on Dec. 4. … Sarkisian said that several Huskies have been ruled out of Saturday’s game because of injuries. Linebacker E.J. Savannah (broken thumb), wide receiver Jordan Polk (migraines) and linebacker Alvin Logan (cracked fibula) won’t play in the 102nd Apple Cup. Wide receiver Tony Chidiac (pulled hamstring) also appears unlikely to play. … Sophomore Anthony Boyles has seen practice time on both sides of the ball this week, but it appears likely he’ll make his debut as a cornerback. Boyles came to UW as a wide receiver and switched positions last month. … The Huskies will have a short practice this morning before taking the afternoon off for the holiday.

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