Courtesy of Western Carolina Athletics
CULLOWHEE, N.C. â€“ Western Carolinaâ€™s offensive unit overcame an early, 2-0, deficit by utilizing four touchdowns including two on the ground and two through the air to win the annual Spring Game, 28-18, over the defense Saturday evening in front of over 500 spectators under the lights at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field.
Saturdayâ€™s controlled scrimmage featured 17 total game-like scenario series and approximately 65 plays. The final practice session for WCU this spring featured the ball placed at varying yard lines for starting field position with each drive played through completion of points, turnover or a defensive stop.
Quarterback Zack Jaynes was nearly perfect on the day, tossing two touchdown passes as a part of a 7-for-8 showing with 58 yards in the scrimmage, splitting time under center with Casey Turner, a transfer signal caller. Turner finished 6-of-12 overall for 35 yards and one interception in his first live action for the purple and gold.
â€œLooking at tonightâ€™s spring game scrimmage, I thought offensively we were just way too sloppy. We canâ€™t have the penalties and turnovers and the things that we did â€“ the material is there, weâ€™ve just got to do a better job. Defensively, I thought that we played well except for the big plays. If they donâ€™t give up the big plays then they do an outstanding job against (our offense),â€ said WCU head coach Dennis Wagner amidst a spring rain shower that peppered the turf just after the conclusion of the scrimmage.
Consecutive stops by the WCU defense, including back-to-back quarterback sacks by converted defensive back Adam Hearns and lineman Charles Johnson on the opening series netted a 2-0 lead for the defensive unit.
On the next series, with the ball placed inside the red-zone plus a five-yard defensive encroachment penalty on the first snap, the offense scratched the scoreboard. Junior running back Nate Harris scampered in from 15 yards out with Blake Bosticâ€™s point after putting the offense up, 7-2.
Harris finished with six carries for 34 yards and the TD, adding one reception for three yards.
Following a third defensive stop point, Jaynes and the offense again capitalized on the short field as he found senior wide receiver Marquel Pittman from 30 yards out, hitting him in stride for the touchdown pass. The reception was the lone catch for Pittman who had been nursing a sore knee the final two weeks of the spring with the 30 yards pacing the receiving corps.
Jaynes again struck pay-dirt two possessions later in a goal line scenario when he found tight end Chris Everett for his only catch from four yards out, handing the offensive unit a commanding, 21-4, edge over the defense despite the four halted drives.
After the third offensive touchdown, the defense stiffened, rattling off 12-consecutive points to close to within five, 21-16. The 12-0 run by the defensive unit included halting seven-straight drives, forcing three punts on would-be fourth downs, a quarterback sack for a safety by redshirt freshman Brian Johnson and an interception by junior defensive back, Torez Jones.
During the run, the defense also scored three points by forcing a missed 45-yard field goal attempt by Bostic, who otherwise was perfect 2-for-2 on PATs. Redshirt freshman placekicker Leo Gamez also split the uprights on his two PAT attempts.
Redshirt sophomore running back Dion Wilson snapped the scoreless drought and effectively salted the game away for the offense on the next possession, busting through nearly untouched for a 31-yard scoring romp which accounted for the longest play during the scrimmage. Overall, Wilson added one catch out of the backfield for five yards.
In addition to Pittmanâ€™s catch for 30 yards, Jacoby Mitchell made three catches for 26 yards for the WCU wide receivers with transfer Deja Alexander hauling in three passes for 11 yards and Jeff Massey and Brandon Stamey combining for three receptions and 14 yards.
WCUâ€™s defensive effort was balanced with 21 players recording at least one tackle in the scrimmage. The unit was paced by four stops including two tackles for loss by transfer defensive back Reggie America, with linemen Johnson and Walt Woolwine each credited with four tackles apiece, the previous with a pair of sacks and the safety. Nate Stephenson recorded three tackles including two behind the line of scrimmage, with Charles Johnson tallying two of the seven WCU defense sacks.
Several Catamounts were held out of Saturday nightâ€™s Spring Game including the running back tandem of Quan Warley and the reigning Southern Conference Freshman of the Year, Michael Johnson. Wide receivers Dre Thomas, Josh Cockrell and Kyle Ward, as well as tight end Andrew Rogers and offensive lineman Nathan Postelle also did not dress for the offense. Defensively, linebacker Ricky Schwarz, who was out most of the spring with a chest injury, and Elijer Martinez did not dress.
Saturday nightâ€™s annual Spring Game was the culmination of the month-long, 15-practice spring drills on-campus for the Catamount football team. The squad will move into off-season summer conditioning regiments in preparation for fall camp which will open in early August, 2010.
â€œOverall, I thought the spring was good. We got a lot out of it, but weâ€™ve still got work to do â€“ but thatâ€™s what I challenged (the team) to. They have got from now until July when we come back to be prepared and ready to go. That will be the true test of these guys to see if they are pretenders or contenders when they get back,â€ concluded Wagner.