By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — One thing we know about the 2009 Apple Cup is that it won’t have a repeat hero.
Nico Grasu, the current Washington State junior who kicked the game-winning field goal in 2008, is back in his hometown of Encino, Calif., this week, celebrating the holidays and nursing a quadriceps injury that has kept him off the field the past four weeks.
If Saturday’s game comes down to another field goal, Grasu will have to watch on television.
Erik Folk certainly knows what that feels like.
The University of Washington sophomore was sitting at home last year, nursing an injury of his own, when Ryan Perkins missed two potential game-winning field goals for the Huskies. Now recovered from a hip injury, Folk is serving as the Huskies’ kicker and relieved not to have to watch this year’s Apple Cup from afar.
“It was frustrating,” he said of watching the Huskies miss two field goals before Grasu connected from 37 yards out in the second overtime of the Cougars’ 16-13 win last November. “I was frustrated that I couldn’t be out there helping the team win. We needed a couple of kicks, and it was really, really frustrating.”
While there is no guarantee that Folk will deliver should the same situation arise this Saturday, he has certainly shown an ability to come through in the clutch this year. The third-year sophomore hit a game-winner to beat USC on Sept. 19, and he sent the Notre Dame game into overtime with a last-second field goal two weeks later.
“That was a concern coming into this year,” special teams coordinator Johnny Nansen said of UW’s kicking in clutch situations, “but he’s answered a lot of questions.”
Folk’s last opportunity to deliver in the clutch didn’t go so well. He shanked a 38-yarder with 10:41 remaining in the Nov. 7 game at UCLA. Neither team scored another point, and the Huskies eventually lost 24-23.
That was the last field-goal attempt Folk has had.
Folk, who was so despondent after the UCLA game that he turned down an interview request, said he’s “not really” looking for an opportunity to make up for that miss.
“I’m just trying to forget about the past and take it one kick at a time,” Folk said this week.
In his first season as the Huskies’ placekicker, Folk has made good on 15 of 18 field-goal attempts, including one stretch where he hit seven in a row. That’s a big improvement upon last year’s combined total of 9-for-18 between Perkins and Jared Ballman.
While the past hip injury has clearly affected Folk on his kickoff distance — he has only five touchbacks in 49 kickoffs — he has shown remarkable consistency on field goals. Folk has made three field goals from 40 yards out or farther and his only miss from inside 40 yards was the fourth-quarter shank against UCLA.
“The kid’s done a great job for us all year,” Nansen said. “I’m very, very, very confident that he’s going to do a great job for us this week.”
Folk isn’t exactly gloating in his success this season.
“I would rather have all those field goals be PAT’s,” he said, referring to the Huskies’ struggles in the red zone. “But I’ve just gone out there and tried to do the best I can to help the team win.”
Maybe Folk can help his team win in overtime this week, and become the next Nico Grasu in the process.
But Folk doesn’t need to be the hero this time around. If this year’s Apple Cup doesn’t come down to a field goal attempt — or two, or three, like the end of the 2008 game — he will be just fine with that.
Asked whether he would prefer a 50-0 Huskies lead or a 13-13 tie in the closing seconds this Saturday, Folk did not hesitate.
“I’ll take 50-0,” he said. “But if it does come down to a field goal, I think I’ll be ready.”