College football: Lobbestael steps up for Cougars

PULLMAN – In an instant Marshall Lobbestael went from holding a clipboard on the sidelines, to holding the offense together for the Washington State football team.

As the third-string quarterback, behind starter Kevin Lopina and back-up Gary Rogers, Lobbestael hoped to get in some reps during mop-up time of an expected win over Portland State.

He got a little more than that on Saturday.

When injures to both Lopina and Rogers knocked them out of the game, Lobbestael – a redshirt freshman – was called on midway through the third quarter of a 24-3 game and asked to simply protect the lead and not give the game away.

Instead he put the game away, throwing touchdown passes on his first two pass attempts and helping WSU ice a 48-9 win at Martin Stadium.

“It was sort of a blur,” he said.

Being called on to play because of what appeared to be serious injuries to both Lopina and Rogers wasn’t exactly how Lobbestael envisioned earning his snaps.

“It was sort of uncomfortable to go in after seeing Kevin and Gary going down like that,” Lobbestael said.

But the baby-faced kid with hair almost as crimson as the Cougs’ jerseys, didn’t seem overly uncomfortable on the field. On his first play, with WSU on the Portland State 33-yard line, Lobbestael did the most important thing he could do – not fumble the snap. He took it crisply and handed the ball off to Chris Ivory, who ran for 19 yards down to the 14 yard-line.

It seemed logical for WSU offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy to give Lobbestael a soft-landing of sorts and stay with mainly with hand-offs for an already producing ground game. Instead he gave the youngster a two-play option – both passes – on the very next play.

“I wanted to give Marshall a chance to make a big play and put him in situation where he had a chance to throw the ball early,” Sturdy said.

Lobbestael looked like a seasoned veteran, coolly taking the snap, making a play-action fake and then tossing his first collegiate touchdown pass to a wide-open Jeshua Anderson in the end zone.

“I like to put the younger players in that situation to hopefully get rid of some of the nervousness,” Sturdy said. “Whether it works or doesn’t work, we really wanted to give him the opportunity to make the big play.”

One pass, one touchdown. It seemed like easy stuff for the apparently calm and collected Lobbestael.

“The first couple of plays I was just trying to act calm,” he admitted.

Apparently he did a good job because he had his offensive coordinator fooled too.

“I was very impressed with his demeanor when he did go into the game,” Sturdy said. “He was very calm and really was focused and did some great things.”

But after that first touchdown pass, Lobbestael wasn’t just acting calm and collected, he felt that way.

On the next series, faced with third down and 5 at the Cougs 47-yard-line, Lobbestael threw pretty pass to tight end Devin Frischknect over the middle. Frischknect did the rest, breaking a couple tackles and rumbling 53 yard for a touchdown.

For Lobbestael, it was two pass attempts and two touchdowns. His third pass attempt on the next Cougs’ possession wouldn’t go for a touchdown, but it was good enough for a third down. The string of completions ran out there, but he finished the game 9-of-12 for 149 yards and the two touchdowns.

“You know he gets limited amounts of reps at practice and he comes in and stepped it up and produced,” Frischknecht said.

Lobbestael’s usual limited reps were even more limited this week.

“To tell you the truth, I didn’t get many reps in practice because we had a lot of stuff cover,” Lobbestael said.

Instead of trying to force feed Lobbestael stuff he wasn’t familiar with, Sturdy kept it simple and stayed with Lobbestael knew.

“He ran stuff that I was comfortable,” Lobbestael said. “We ran a lot of base stuff that I knew.”

While the performance is surprising because of Lobbestael’s lack of game experience – two series in the blowout loss to Cal – it isn’t surprising because of his talent. He was a touted recruit coming out of Oak Harbor High School in 2007.

A three-year starter at Oak Harbor, he led the Wildcats to the 4A state championship in his senior season.

Along the way, he threw for 2,776 yards and 34 touchdowns, earning him first-team all-state his senior season along with being chose an honorable mention News Tribune Northwest Nugget.

When pressed about the projected starter for next weekend, Wulff said it was “way too early” to tell. But if the other two can’t go?

“Then Marshall plays a lot,” Wulff said.

Lobbestael too shrugged off the possibility of having to cover next week’s homecoming game against Oregon.

“It’s too early I don’t want to think about it, because I hope Kevin and Gary are alright,” he said. “But if the situation presents itself like that and that’s what I need to do, I’ll work hard and get ready as much as possible. But it’s tough to think about that now.”

But with the late news that Rogers suffered a “stable cervical spine fracture” and his done for the rest of the season, according to a WSU release, Lobbestael will have to start thinking about it as a possibility.

If that’s the case, he’s certainly proved himself to his teammates with his play on Saturday.

“Marshall did a great job tonight,” senior wide receiver Brandon Gibson said. “He does a great job in practice when he gets his chance. I’m comfortable with him if he has to start.”