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From the scrimmage to Qwest, a newsy spring day at WSU

COUGARS • UPDATED: 8:15 P.M.

Thought we would have a scrimmage story for you this afternoon and we do. What we didn’t expect is having a chance to talk with athletic director Jim Sterk concerning the Apple Cup proposal – along with the other reporters here – and we have a story about that as well. Read on for the unedited versions of both.

••••••••••

• Here is the story on the scrimmage …

PULLMAN – Even as spring football scrimmages go, Washington State’s second of this spring was short, lasting less than 40 minutes.

The main reason was simple. The list of Cougars out of action is long, and growing longer.

“Today was a little more pass emphasis than the previous scrimmages, probably that’s because we’re missing seven linebackers,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said after the Cougars had run 44 offensive plays Saturday before a small sun-drenched gathering in the Martin Stadium stands and dozens of recruits and their parents on the south sideline.

The latest linebacker to join the injured list is Louis Bland, who sprained a knee in practice Thursday. He was in a brace and on crutches Saturday and Wulff said he’ll miss the rest of spring and the early part of the summer.

“He’s expected to back by fall, though,” Wulff said.

With the defense thinned, the passing game took center stage in the scrimmage, especially in the final 10 minutes during a 2-minute drill.

The No. 1 offense, under Kevin Lopina’s direction, drove from its 35 to score in 1:45, overcoming a holding call in the process.

Lopina, who was 7 of 9 on the drive and 12 of 17 for 162 yards overall, put the ball in Johnny Forzani’s hands in the end zone as time ran out, the only touchdown by either unit.

“I thought it went well with the ones, I thought we moved the ball well,” Lopina said. “We got two field goals – we could have had a touchdown there – but other than that we finished drives with points.”

The senior quarterback, who has been getting a majority of the snaps as Marshall Lobbestael rehabs from knee surgery, then talked about a couple sophomore receivers.

“If I have (Jared) Karstetter man up on a corner, I’m going to take it,” Lopina said. “And (Norrell) has great hands. He caught everything today. He’s had a great spring and we expect great things from him in the fall.”

Karstetter had four catches for 66 yards and Norrell five for 50.

The defense did have its moments, despite playing without any of top linebackers – besides Bland, senior Andy Mattingly is out with an arm injury, sophomore Alex Hoffman-Ellis is nursing a leg injury and junior Myron Beck is coming off back surgery.

“Hopefully, we’ll get them back and healthy,” Wulff said. “The players who are playing are doing a good of just executing and they’re being more consistent with their execution of their assignments and technique.”

Redshirt freshman defensive end Cory Mackay tipped a Dan Wagner pass early and Dan Spitz grabbed the ball for an interception. And, as Wagner guided the No. 2 offense down the field in the 2-minute drill, senior safety Xavier Hicks stepped in front of Tyler Thompson and ended the scrimmage with a pick.

“It was a big play,” Hicks said of the interception in the end-of-game situation. “Our goal is to keep the offense inbounds and not allow any big plays. If we get a turnover, take a knee, that just seals the ball game.”

Another defender missing was Hicks’ running mate at safety, Chima Nwachukwu, but the junior wasn’t hurt.

Nwachukwu was in San Francisco representing WSU at the Pac-10 meeting of student-athlete advisory committee members.

“I missed Chima, that’s my right-hand man,” Hicks said. “It was rough not having him here, but he’ll back on Tuesday.”

SPRING NOTES: The Cougars have two practices next week (Tuesday and Thursday) and then end spring drills with another short Martin Stadium scrimmage next Saturday at 10 a.m. … James Montgomery skipped the scrimmage, giving his sore shoulder a rest, and Dwight Tardy carried just once for minus-1 yard before shutting it down with ice on his left leg. Wulff said he expects Montgomery back next week and wasn’t aware of Tardy’s departure. … With the emphasis on passing, the Cougars had just 18 rushing plays. Logwone Mitz led the way with 25 yards on seven carries. … Nico Grasu connected on two field goals – 35 and 33 yards – but missed a 35-yarder as well. Reid Forrest punted once for 40 yards. The ball had the height of a Tiger Woods 9-iron and forced a fair catch. … The best hit of the day came from defensive back Daniel Simmons, who met Kevin Richmond in the flat a second after Lopina’s pass arrived. The 5-yard loss was negated by an accepted offensive holding penalty. … The tight ends found some room in the middle with Skylar Stormo catching a 31-yard pass and Tony Thompson a 22-yarder.

•••

• Here is the Sterk story …

PULLMAN – Washington State athletic director Jim Sterk, buffeted all week by criticism of a plan to move the Apple Cup annually to Seattle’s Qwest Field, held an impromptu news conference Saturday following the Cougars’ spring football scrimmage.

Surrounded by reporters and cameras on the Martin Stadium turf, Sterk said he understood the intense reaction of the Cougar faithful, but emphasized budget pressures forced him to evaluate the still-to-be-signed agreement.

“My first reaction was ‘hell no,’ and ‘no way,’ ” Sterk said, “but, unfortunately, we are in unprecedented times. Every day, thousands of people are getting laid off … and athletics is not immune to that.

“The ability for us to generate some unprecedented revenues in a time where we’re going to be facing some significant cuts and challenges to our program, I’ve got to consider it.”

Sterk said the WSU athletic department is looking at a $1.5 to $2 million “challenge for the coming year.” To make the budget balance, he added, his staff is looking “anything and everything,” including limiting roster size, travel budgets and personnel cuts throughout the department.

He said the agreement would guarantee WSU an increase of more than $10 million over the current setup in the six years of the contract.

“Do I want to bring the game there?” he asked rhetorically. “No. But it’s something as athletics director I need to consider doing, given all the factors.

“As I look at the budget challenges, as I look at trying to keep our programs competitive,” Sterk added, “then three games – and they’re significant, three Apple Cups are significant – but, for three games to net $10 million dollars, and to bring back the annual game that we do in Seattle now to Pullman, than I would say the Pullman community, if it’s not a wash, it might even be an increase as far as the economic impact.”

Still, Sterk understands the fans’ reaction.

“Fans, overall, alumni and fans have the same reaction I had,” Sterk said. ” ‘Oh my gosh, there’s no way, the guy is crazy, he’s a lunatic.’ … Those a few of the things that have been said to me or my daughters.”

But, Sterk added, many of the more financially involved boosters have been positive.

“The people that understand, the people that have invested a lot in the program, that are helping us with our stadium project, those people are solidly behind it,” Sterk said.

Besides the financial aspects, Sterk also addressed some of the nuts-and-bolts of the proposed deal.

• The particulars are still being ironed out, he said.

“Both schools are looking at hard, and I’m really not sure when it will be finalized,” Sterk said. There is a draft agreement, he added, but “I haven’t signed in blood - literally.”

• The deal isn’t a certainty.

“I can’t say that,” he answered when asked if he expected it to go through. “I think so, but I couldn’t say there may be things that change that I don’t know about that the decision my be different, but as the factors I see right now, ya, it probably would.”

• The agreement would be for six years, but it could be extended if it works out.

However, Sterk admitted he would use the Apple Cup’s migration to Seattle as a way to help raise funds to finish the planned remodel and expansion of Martin Stadium.

“That is something I would look at,” he said, “and try to do during the six years is build it up, get our Phase III done and possibly more and then bring it back.”

• The game would be part of the student sports pass, just like the Seattle game is now. And Sterk feels they would give WSU an advantage.

“To tell you the truth, I think we would have more students there than the University of Washington,” Sterk said. “I would project that our students would go and be there. … More students would be closer by on Thanksgiving weekend than they are on the Seattle-game weekend.”

• The game would be projected to be on that Thanksgiving weekend, allowing a bye in the 12-game schedule.

“This year, on a normal calendar year, we’re able to, in Seattle, move the game to Thanksgiving weekend,” he said of the current arrangement. “In Pullman, I don’t think that works.”

• Sterk said contracts for future nonconference games with Wisconsin, UNLV and Utah “specifically say, Pullman, Wash.,” and it would cost a significant amount for an opponent to get out of the contract.

“Some people may balk at it but I would certainly want to hold people there,” he said. “The more we can build up the stadium here, then it is easier for me to pay a larger guarantee and bring people in like that.”

•••

• UPDATE: Thought I would tag this on the end of the stories because I read it tonight. The Times’ Steve Kelley gives his opinion about moving the AC to Qwest. It’s going to be in tomorrow’s paper, but it was on the web tonight so I figured it was worth posting.

•••

• That’s it for this afternoon. We’ll be back in the morning. Until then …


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