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WSU loses Apple Cup, wins tourney


COUGARS

Well, reading the comments it seems like football season has been forgotten and everyone is moving into basketball mode already. Well, not so fast my friends. We still have our Apple Cup game story and notebook to offer. So read on and check back in the morning for links to all the Pac-10 games. And, yes, the basketball game as well (in case you didn’t know, WSU won the Great Alaska Shootout with a 93-56 win over the University of San Diego. And Klay Thompson scored a tournament record 43 points – just two off the WSU school record as well).

••••••••••

• OK, so here’s the game story …

SEATTLE – An Apple Cup game can alter a career. It can redeem a season. It can exhilarate or haunt.

Or it can just be more of the same, a continuation of the season gone by.

Such was the case Saturday for the Washington State Cougars.

The mistakes that have plagued the Cougars this season – dropped passes, missed tackles, poor execution and more – all showed up once again before 68,697 in Husky Stadium.

The result was a 30-0 defeat in a season of them, ending Washington State’s 2009 at 1-11 and 0-9 in the Pac-10, the second consecutive year the Apple Cup loser has finished with that conference mark.

“It is the story of the year,” said senior running back Dwight Tardy of the Cougars’ lack of execution. “It’s sickening.”

If the game was a microcosm of the season, then one play on the Cougars’ first drive represented the game as a whole.

After WSU forced the Huskies to punt on their opening possession – the first time the defense has turned that trick all season – the Cougars moved to the UW 34.

On first and 10, Kevin Lopina handed to Tardy running right. Tardy slammed on the breaks, turned and tossed a lateral back to Lopina. The senior quarterback planted and uncorked a pass downfield, toward Gino Simone, open at the 3-yard line.

Simone tried to climb the ladder, but the bit-too-long pass glanced off his hands and fell into the end zone. As it fell to the turf, WSU’s chance to lead a regulation game for the first time this year bounced away as well. Two penalties and two ineffective plays later, WSU punted.

“We really should have hit Simone on the first one,” said offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy. “It was a great look. We had him, had him wide open. Didn’t hit it. We need to hit that. It could have really helped us in this football game.”

It was big because of the ongoing problems faced by the Cougar defense.

“I think it’s pretty clear the team is crippled as far as injuries, and the team is,” said center Kenny Alfred, who made his 44th, and last, start for WSU. “I know it’s a tired thing to talk about. I understand that. But at the same time it’s true.”

The defense entered the game with only a couple experienced players available for relief and then lost safety Chima Nwachukwu (ankle) again in the second half.

But that might not have been the worst of it. The group had to face Jake Locker.

“The difference in the game was No. 10 on their team,” said WSU coach Paul Wulff, referring to Locker. “He runs it, throws it … He’s almost a one-man show out there. He was the difference, period.”

But it took Locker and the UW (4-7, 3-5) offense three possessions, and a big assist from a Lopina interception, to make a difference.

That pick, the third of the season by linebacker Mason Foster, put the Huskies at the WSU 13. But three plays netted just 7 yards and Erik Folk was forced to kick the first of his three field goals.

Locker didn’t need much help, or time, to get the next score. Starting at its own 15, UW covered the 85 yards in three plays, the final 50 on a Locker-to-Jermaine Kearse bomb down the middle when the safeties closed on a shorter crossing route.

It was the Huskies longest scoring pass of the year.

Locker, who missed some open receivers early on a windy day, finished 16 of 28 for 196 yards.

But, as the Cougar defense wore down in the second half, UW turned to the run.

Chris Polk became the first Husky freshman to top 1,000 yards with a 13-yard fourth-quarter run, finishing with 130 yards on 25 carries. He had 31 on 11 in the first half. The Huskies had 222 yards rushing after halftime, including 82 of Locker’s 94, the final 15 on UW’s last score.

“Everytime (Polk) ran the ball, he got 3 or 4 yards and that kind of chips away at a defense,” said safety Xavier Hicks, whose third-quarter interception of Locker kept UW out of the end zone. “In the end, if it was third-and-short, they were able to pick up first downs by just giving him the ball.”

The offense was wearing down as well, though running out might be a better term.

With freshman Jeff Tuel already sidelined with a knee problem, first Lopina – he suffered a stinger when hit on the interception – then Marshall Lobbestael – knocked woozy on a second-quarter, 11-yard scramble – were forced to the sidelines.

Lopina returned when Lobbestael left, only to tear his oblique muscle when driven to the ground by Cameron Elisara after throwing a pass. In came fourth-string quarterback Dan Wagner to hand off four times to end the half.

“Disappointing a light word to use when you see your quarterback go down,” Alfred said. “It’s like a knife in your heart. That’s how it has to feel.”

And how it affects an offense.

“The quarterback situation in the first half was a little dicey for us,” Sturdy said. “It made it difficult at times for us.”

Lobbestael returned to start the second half and finished, but it didn’t matter. WSU was shutout in the Apple Cup for the first time since 1964.

“Straight up, we didn’t execute,” Tardy said.

•••

• And here’s my part of the notebook …

SEATTLE – As the 2009 season wound down, each week a different Washington State defensive player or two seemed to step up and have a career game.

Against Oregon State a week ago it was safety Easton Johnson, playing his first game on the defensive side of the ball, and linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis.

Saturday it was Mike Ledgerwood.

The sophomore linebacker, playing partly due to injuries to the Cougars’ defensive line, was all over the field, especially in the first quarter, and finished with a career-high 14 tackles, including 10 by himself.

“I was just running my ass off,” Ledgerwood explained. “I was in the zone the whole time.”

Ledgerwood is part of coach Paul Wulff’s first recruiting class, a late get from River View High in Kennewick. Playing sparingly, Ledgerwood made 14 tackles as a freshman.

He opened this season on special teams, but started playing more after Louis Bland went down with a knee injury. He moved into the starting lineup last week when WSU switched to a 3-4 front.

“It’s wild seeing your (road) roommate out there playing really well,” said senior linebacker Andy Mattingly. “It’s a lot of fun seeing a young guy like him who has a lot of upside in the next couple years.”

Hoffman-Ellis followed up last week’s 15-tackle performance with seven more, including his first career sack. And Johnson, who sat the first half while usual starter Chima Nwachukwu tried, unsuccessfully, to play through his ankle sprain, played the second and recorded six tackles.

Johnson also forced and recovered Demitrius Bronson’s fourth-quarter fumble at WSU’s 3-yard line.

•••

When Kevin Lopina went out for good with an oblique muscle tear with less than 2 minutes remaining in the first half, WSU turned to Dan Wagner to run the offense.

How a walk-on from Portland, who is higher on the depth chart at punter (second string) than quarterback (fourth), had to fill-in is another example of WSU’s injury problems.

With freshman Jeff Tuel out since the Arizona game with a kneecap problem, Lopina had taken over as the starter. But Lopina suffered a stinger in the first quarter and Marshall Lobbestael relieved.

Lobbestael was himself shaken up midway through the second quarter and was held out as a precaution until he could be checked at halftime.

Lopina returned, only to suffer the game-ending injury. And in came Wagner, a 6-foot, 210-pound sophomore left-hander. Though that would be hard to tell, since he wasn’t called on to pass in four plays just before halftime.

“Surprisingly, I wasn’t too nervous,” Wagner said.

As the Cougars went through halftime, Lobbestael went to be checked out and Wagner started working with offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy.

“I was anticipating getting mentally prepared to go out in the second half,” Wagner said. “Coach Sturdy sat me down, we were going through plays, going through reads.”

But Lobbestael checked out OK and Wagner returned to the sidelines, signally in the plays as he usually does.

“I was disappointed,” said Wagner, who filled in last year at Oregon State after Lobbestael’s knee injury. “I’m a competitor, I want to play. At the same time, I was relieved Marshall was healthy and good.”

•••

The Cougars’ injury woes continued, and even spread to the chain gang. An unidentified member of the crew went down during an early second quarter punt and didn’t get up.

After being attended to on the Husky sideline for about 10 minutes, he was put on a back brace and transported to Harborview Medical Center by ambulance. Afterward, his injury was identified – a pre-existing back problem – but not his name.

Most of the Cougars injured were well known, with Lopina unable to return, Nwachukwu limping off and tight end Zach Tatman having his bell rung late and not returning.

But afterward Wulff, going over the team’s major injuries heading into the offseason, dropped a bombshell about James Montgomery.

The junior running back was injured against SMU, had to have emergency surgery the next day and could have lost his left leg to acute compartment syndrome. Still, he had a hot-dog shaped piece of muscle removed from just below his knee to above his ankle.

“We’ve had wonderful news,” Wulff said of Montgomery. “It looks like he’s going to recover from that calf. It’s just been a blessing for us.

“They expect him to be 100 percent and that’s been a boost for our team. He’s made such unbelievable progress running. His calf isn’t 100 percent, but he’s come so far, so fast, they are very, very encourage he’ll be back.”

Montgomery is not out of the woods, however.

He faces surgery on the cartilage in his right knee, which he hurt while at Cal and reaggravated this fall. Then he’ll have to be fitted with a brace to stabilize his left ankle. How he’ll respond at that point is still undetermined.

•••••

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


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