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Originally published Tuesday, November 24, 2009 at 11:55 PM

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Kevin Lopina to start at QB for Cougars in Apple Cup

Injured Jeff Tuel, who had been the starter, still might see action vs. UW

Seattle Times staff reporter

Washington safety Nate Fellner predicted Tuesday that Jeff Tuel — whom he calls a "best friend" — will try to get on the field for Washington State Saturday.

"If he can practice, I expect him to play," said Fellner, a teammate of Tuel's at Clovis West High in Fresno, Calif.

But WSU coach Paul Wulff said before practice that Tuel, who has been out since injuring his knee cap Nov. 7, will begin the game on the bench, announcing that senior Kevin Lopina will start at quarterback for the Cougars in the Apple Cup.

"The plan is definitely to start Kevin Lopina and there's a chance you could see Marshall Lobbestael or Jeff," Wulff said. "It just depends on how they continue to practice through the week."

Wulff said later in the day that "it's a remote chance" that Tuel might play, saying he won't be cleared if there's any chance of doing further damage to the knee.

Tuel earned the starting job for WSU's fifth game of the season and started five games before being injured, establishing himself as the team's QB of the future.

Lopina, who was the team's opening-day starter, took over two weeks ago when Lobbestael struggled against UCLA, throwing three interceptions in the first quarter, and started and went all the way last week in a 42-10 loss to Oregon State.

Fellner figures he'll give his friend a call later in the week to get the straight scoop. The two usually talk after every game to see how each other did that day, surprisingly eventful calls this season given that each became a starter as a true freshman.

Fellner was a running back and defensive back at Clovis West, taking his handoffs from Tuel. There was some talk of playing together in college. But Fellner, who was offered a scholarship by the Cougars, saw that WSU recruited a lot of other safeties and turned his attention elsewhere, eventually choosing the Huskies. Tuel wasn't offered a scholarship by UW (which already had a commitment from a QB in Keith Price) and signed on at WSU.

The two had mostly good-natured fun with their choice of colleges the rest of the season, though Fellner grew a little tired of it after the Cougars won the 2008 Apple Cup.

"It was so frustrating when we lost the Apple Cup last year because he just wouldn't stop," Fellner said. "So I don't want to let that happen again, hopefully."

Notes

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• The Huskies practiced in full pads, and DT Cameron Elisara went the whole way and said later he felt fine. Elisara has not played since the first half of the Oct. 17 game at Arizona State while battling stingers.

• LB E.J. Savannah, out the past two games with a broken hand/thumb, will be sidelined again this week. UW coach Steve Sarkisian had hoped Savannah would be able to play but he was not cleared to practice and he said on his radio show that "it doesn't look like he'll be able to go." Cort Dennison will continue as the starter.

• Fellner is the grandson of former WSU coach Jim Sweeney but he said the Apple Cup wasn't something he knew much about growing up in Fresno. Sweeney was also the longtime coach at Fresno State. "When you are a kid, all you do is pay attention to the local team," he said. "I didn't really know about the Apple Cup until I started being recruited by these guys."

• Lopina hasn't played a game at Husky Stadium before but he has played in Seattle. He was the starting QB for De La Salle High of Concord, Calif., when that school had its 151-game winning streak broken by Bellevue at Qwest Field in 2004.

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