As I was sitting on a bench in Martin Stadium about 45 minutes before Saturday’s scrimmage was to start, watching Nico Grasu drilling field goals through the west goal posts, a cart drove past. In the passenger seat was former Cougar coach Jim Sweeney. In the back, former baseball coach Bobo Brayton. They were headed to the south side to watch the scrimmage. But as they passed behind the goal posts, one of Grasu’s kicks tumbled from the sky, striking inside the cart right next to Brayton and bouncing over him. It didn’t phase him at all. Read on for more from the scrimmage.
• Had a chance to talk with Sweeney and Brayton for a while before the scrimmage started. They were in town for the fifth annual Past meets Present barbecue. Some names from the past, besides those two, included Jack Thompson, Chris Dyko and others that I, as the new kid on the block, didn’t recognize. … What did the alums see? Let’s start with the offense. As I said in my story, which you can read here, Kevin Lopina was perfect on six throws. His favorite receiver was Jared Karstetter, who he teamed up with three times for 29 yards. Marshall Lobbestael had a few misses, but he did find freshman Gino Simone twice for 29 yard, including one over the middle that Simone held on to despite being exploded by Chima Nwachukwu. That catch came one play after Simone was banging himself on the helmet, having missed a block on linebacker Jason Stripling that resulted in a 4-yard loss on a quick screen. If you’re keeping score at home, Lopina may have moved slightly ahead in the quarterback race with his performance. … But there’s a darkhorse. Freshman Jeff Tuel was nearly perfect, albeit all his attempts came against the third string defense. He got a 15 snaps in large part because J.T. Levenseller was ill and couldn’t go, according to offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy. “I am (happy how I played) for the most part,” Tuel said. “I missed the one opportunity for the touchdown, but that’ll come. I’m pleased overall.” Tuel was pointing to his lone incompletion, as he threw behind an open Leon Brooks in the end zone. “It was great for me,” to get so many snaps Tuel said. “It was a great opportunity for me to show what I can do, get out there and play. I had a blast.” A big part of his success, Tuel said, is due to the help he receives from the other quarterbacks, especially Lopina and Lobbestael. So is he ready to jump over them and become the starter? Tuel laughed when asked that question and answered, “no comment.” … All the quarterbacks, including Dan Wagner and David Gilbertson, combined to finish 18 of 23 for 212 yards.
• There were some standouts on the other side as well. As we talked about in our story, defensive end Casey Hamlett had a good day. The guy he’s battling for the starting spot, Jesse Feagin, didn’t slack off, catching Lopina for an 8-yard sack against the number one offensive line. … The biggest hits of the day came from Nwachukwu on Simone, safety Jamal Atofau on Andrei Lintz – though co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball yelled at the freshman to “wrap up” – and tackle Anthony Laurenzi right up the middle on Arthur Burns. … The defense’s biggest strength seemed to be on third down. Nine times the offense faced one, seven times the defense got stops. Quite an improvement from last year. … Of the offenses four fumbles, the defense corralled two, including reserve safety Kyle McCartney stripping the ball from Brooks and grabbing it before it hit the ground.
• There were some highlights for the threes, besides Tuel’s play – and McCartney’s recovery. Receiver Esa Johnwell had three catches for 38 yards. Freshmen Justin Clayton and Adam Coerper had back-to-back sacks. Tight end Aaron Gehring turned a short Tuel pass into a 34-yard gain.
• There were a few special teams plays including four field goal attempts for Nico Grasu. The junior made two – from 31 and 45 yards – and missed two – from 52 and 49 yards. Patrick Rooney had one attempt from 27 yards that got batted from someone inside. It might have still been good, though my angle was bad. Punter Reid Forrest had one bomb among his three punts, booming the last one 56 yards. It was so good that Wulff called the scrimmage afterward. … Andy Mattingly (groin strain), Levenseller (sickness), Myron Beck (back), Carl Winston (concussion), Jeshua Anderson (hamstring) and Johnny Forzani (foot, though he was out of the boot) did not participate.
• And, as our final note, talked with Lynden High senior-to-be receiver Blair Bomber. The 5-9, 165 speedster was offered a scholarship from the Cougars on Saturday and he accepted. “They’ve been interested and coach (Jody) Sears has been recruiting me hard for the past couple months,” Bomber said. “I came over here and they showed me around and offered me this morning. I love the school, Pullman’s a great place and I’ve got a lot of friends that go to school here. I had a couple offers from other schools, but this was just the best fit for me. It’s really where I want to be.” He’ll enroll in 2010.
• That’s it for me today. Except for this link to a column by Bud Withers about strength coach Darin Lovat. My fingers are sore. We’ll be back in the morning with our usual post, before the Cougars go through their two practices. Until then …