FCS Spring Football Notes & Quotes

North Dakota State FCS College Football
George Hammond

FCS Spring Football Notes & Quotes

A national title tends to generate interest, not that North Dakota State football needed a spark. But fresh off its NCAA Football Championship Subdivision crown in January, a record crowd of 5,842 showed up Saturday at the Fargodome for the team’s spring game. The previous mark was last year when 3,051 attended the spring contest.  For the record, Adam Keller’s 43-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter proved to be the difference in the scrimmage (a 3-0 final). The field goal was set up by Alex LaVoy’s fumble recovery. LaVoy, a 6-foot, 212-pound redshirt freshman from Naytahwaysh, Minn., posted a game-high seven tackles.   Last season’s championship team was honored before the scrimmage with a ring ceremony. The Bison defeated Sam Houston State 17-6 in Frisco, Texas, for the title in early January. North Dakota State opens its 2012 season at home Sept. 1 against Robert Morris before visiting Colorado State on Sept. 8.

Meanwhile, despite that January loss, expectations remain high for Sam Houston State, which had its spring game last Wednesday, and why not? Fifty lettermen return, including 19 starters from a team that went 14-1.  The focus this spring was on the passing game and installing a no-huddle offense. Three new offensive coaches joined the staff this year, including offensive coordinator Doug Ruse.  "I'm excited that, offensively, I think we've taken a step in the right direction with throwing the football, but we can't lose our toughness and our run philosophy," head coach Willie Fritz said on the Bearkats’ school website.

In Statesboro, Ga., Jerick McKinnon played a role in two third-quarter scores in Georgia Southern’s spring game. McKinnon capped off a 90-yard drive with a 20-yard keeper around the right end to put the Blue team back on top 9-6 with less than five minutes left in the quarter and struck again with 1:02 left on a 75-yard pass to B.J. Johnson (Woodruff, S.C.) to go up by 10 points.  McKinnon finished with 83 yards on 14 carries on the ground and completed just the one touchdown pass out of three attempts.

The University of Montana's spring football game last Saturday set a Football Championship Subdivision attendance record with 8,731 fans, according to the Big Sky Conference school. In that scrimmage, four quarterbacks put up 390 yards in the air, but Saturday night, in the final scrimmage of the spring, the defense had the upper hand.  “Ty (Gregorak, UM’s defensive coordinator) brought us up and said, ‘I’m embarrassed in myself and I’m embarrassed about how we did today,’ ” said Alex Bienemann, a junior from Denver to The Missoulian newspaper (after the Saturday scrimmage). “All of us were right there with him. I felt like, to have a crowd like we did (and) to come out under the lights and play so poorly – from the first second on Monday we had a chip on our shoulder.”  The Maroon and White combined for just 193 yards of offense in this last scrimmage.

DeNarius McGhee completed 11 of 19 passes for 103 yards and one touchdown, leading the Blue team to a 14-7 victory over the White in Montana State's Triangle Classic spring scrimmage in Great Falls Saturday.  McGhee led the Blue offense, manned mostly by starters, on a nine-play, 65-yard drive against the team's top defense to open the scrimmage.  “I thought DeNarius was really good at times,” said MSU coach Rob Ash on the school’s website. “And he was just a little off on some throws. I chalk that up to the new routes and reads of the offense. All in all, I'd grade him as good today, but he can do better.”

Northern Iowa, which finished ranked sixth in the final College Sports Madness poll last year, will hold its annual spring game on Friday (4/27). UNI is coming off a 2011 season in which it captured a share of its 16th Missouri Valley Football Conference championship and its seventh title since 2001. The Panthers made their 12th appearance in the FCS Quarterfinals, finishing the season at 10-3 - their sixth season with at least 10 wins since 2001. UNI has finished the season ranked in the Top 5 in six of the last 11 years and in the Top 25 in 10 of the last 11 years. The Panthers will open the 2012 season on Sept. 1 at Wisconsin.

Four Lehigh quarterbacks saw action in full 11-on-11 situations this weekend, with senior Mike Colvin earning the most reps. Colvin overcame a slow start to finish10-of-17 passing unofficially for 81 yards and a touchdown, but threw interceptions on three of his first four series.  Senior cornerback Gabe Johnson was the standout for Lehigh’s defense with two interceptions, the first of which he returned 91 yards for a touchdown and the second that was brought back 70 yards for a score.

In front of 1,564 at Johnny Unitas Stadium on the Towson University campus, the Tigers held their annual Tiger Bowl II game on Saturday. The Black team defeated the White team, 21-7.  Senior running back Dominique Booker scored two touchdowns as a member of the Black team. The Tigers went 9-3 last year under coach Rob Ambrose after winning a combined three games over the previous two seasons.  “Dominique is one of the first players in a long time who has the aspect of player-coach,” Ambrose said on the school’s website. “He knows the offense so well that he is able to bring a level of confidence to the other members of the team.”  Sophomore running back Terrance West added a seven-yard touchdown run for the Black team. West, who ran for 1,294 yards and scored an FCS-leading 29 touchdowns as a freshman, opened Saturday’s scoring with a burst of power with 1:33 remaining in the first quarter. West had nine carries for 28 yards in the game, while Booker ran seven times for 45 yards.

At Old Dominion, Nate Ong (Escondido, Calif.) found one of his favorite targets, Larry Pinkard (Washington, D.C.), to help the White team, comprised of the No. 1 defense and No. 2 offense, to a 23-20 victory over the Blue team of the No. 1 offense and No. 2 defense at Saturday's spring football game.  Ong passed for 210 yards and two touchdowns, completing 17 of his 24 passes for the White while Taylor Heinicke (Atlanta, Ga.) threw for 247 yards and a touchdown for the Blue, completing 17 of his 32 throws.

Veteran coach Jerry Moore wanted to get his Appalachian State offense back on track this spring. And to do that, he brought back Scott Satterfield as the team’s offensive coordinator. Satterfield had helped to install the team’s no-huddle offense in 2004.  "We started out the first practice going extremely fast. We made a lot of mistakes initially, but it didn't really matter to us as much because we wanted to set that tempo in everybody's mind. After that, they started getting better and better with the fundamentals and with the assignments. We've been pleased," Satterfield told the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal this month.  App State went 8-4 last year – a down year for the Mountaineers, which won three straight national titles from 2005-2007.  A drop in offensive production was a key component as App State averaged 28.7 points a game and 390 yards offense – the school’s lowest averages in eight seasons.

At Central Arkansas’ spring game, an offensive highlight was an 87-yard touchdown jaunt down the left sideline by junior quarterback Wynrick Smothers, the most experienced returnee and first option to replace All-American Nathan Dick at the quarterback spot.  Smothers also threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Jesse Grandy. He completed 7 of 12 passes for 96 yards and was sacked once. Redshirt freshman Trey Taylor threw for 187 yards (9 of 15) and three touchdowns, including scoring strikes of 45, 44 and 31 yards.

Tennessee Tech, defending OVC champions, played its spring game Saturday morning and punter Chad Zinchini stole the show. He opened the day with a 70-yard punt, and followed with towering kicks of 62, 55 and 52 yards. He averaged 59.8 yards on those four kicks.
He also put two punts inside the 15 at the 8-yard-line and 14.

At Newark, Del., the defense had the upper hand in the Delaware Blue Hens’ annual spring game at Delaware Stadium. The defense recorded seven sacks and had four interceptions.  Offensively, three Hen quarterbacks split time with first-year Bowling Green transfer Trent Hurley completing 7 of 16 passes for 53 yards and two interceptions. Senior Tim Donnelly, who started all but two games during the 2011 campaign, hit on 5 of 9 passes for 46 yards while sophomore Justin Burns hit on 5 of 9 passes for 95 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman tight end Matt Rodriguez on just the fourth series of the scrimmage.

Sophomore quarterback Steven Coates racked up 319 yards of total offense, the majority of which came from Coates and senior tailback Washaun Ealey in Jacksonville State’s spring game. Coates completed 16 of his 19 pass attempts for 216 yards and three touchdowns, while Ealey rattled off 89 yards and scored a touchdown on 12 carries on the ground.

With several starters sitting out the final scrimmage for various reasons, the defense limited the offense to just 167 yards on 55 plays in the final session at James Madison. Redshirt-senior Hykeem Brodie had a team-high 61 yards on 10 carries, while redshirt-sophomore Dejor Simmons had nine rushes for 41 yards.

Sophomore Davon Lawrence (Central Islip, N.Y.) totaled 92 yards and a touchdown to lead the offense in Stony Brook’s spring game played Sunday. Senior Kevin Norrell (Los Angeles, Calif.) caught five passes for 61 yards and a touchdown. Senior Kyle Essington (Chino Hills, Calif.) completed 10 of 16 passes for 174 yards and the touchdown to Norrell. The pair are two of 14 players who hail from California on the roster.  Junior Lyle Negron (Bakersfield, Calif.) completed 4 of 7 passes for 58 yards, including a 37-yard strike to junior Myles Campbell (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.).  The defending Big South champions return a potent offense, including the 2011 Big South Offensive Player of the Year in senior running back Miguel Maysonet (Riverhead, N.Y.).

In Greenville, S.C., Furman is expected to return 15 starters off last year's squad, which posted a 6-5 record and 5-3 Southern Conference worksheet.
Getting attention in Saturday’s Purple-White scrimmage was placekicker Ray EarlyTwo years ago, Early converted 11-of-12 field goals, but last year, he made just 2-of-6. Saturday, the Darlington, S.C., native looked like his old self, making 9-of-10 field goals (with no rush), including a 55 and 56-yarder.  "Ray has really had a good spring," said Furman head coach Bruce Fowler on the school’s website.  "We're really pleased with him and the confidence he has shown.  He's been as good as we could have imagined."

The battle for quarterback at North Dakota continues.  "It's been pretty exciting, a fun battle to watch," offensive coordinator Greg Breitbach said on the school’s website. "We have four guys at the position right now, three of which have taken snaps in a college football game and two of them have started in pretty big venues."  Senior Braden Hanson went 5-for-6, 97 yards ,1 TD (Charlotte, N.C.) is the oldest member of the group, but he also is the newest to the quartet. The North Carolina transfer is spending his final season of eligibility looking to help the Sioux make a smooth transition to the Big Sky Conference.  Junior Joey Bradley, 12 of 24, 240 yards, 2 TDs, 1 int (Issaquah, Wash.) garnered seven starts a season ago, leading UND to a 4-3 record in those contests. He was the quarterback for the near upset of Fresno State and also guided the Sioux to a road win at Southern Utah. This is Bradley's second spring in the program after joining the team in January 2011.  Senior Marcus Hendrickson was 6-for-11, 85 yards 1 TD (Perham, Minn.) and sophomore Chris Comes (0-for-3) is the youngster in the bunch.

Eastern Washington University quarterbacks Vernon Adams and Anthony Vitto combined to complete 31-of-46 passes for 400 yards to highlight EWU’s 68-play scrimmage (April 21) at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.  All-America receiver Nicholas Edwards had eight catches for 74 yards, and fellow All-American Greg Herd added five for 109 yards. Clark finished with six catches for 89 yards, and running back Quincy Forte caught four for 36 yards. Forte also rushed 11 times for seven yards, including a 2-yard TD run.  The Eagles, who concluded an injury-plagued 2011 season with six wins in their last seven games to finish 6-5, will practice one more week.

At Villanova, the Wildcats are waiting to see the status of 2011 first team All-CAA performer and Wildcat co-captain Dan Shirey, who suffered an Achilles injury the first week of spring ball and is lost for the remainder of spring practice. His status for the 2012 campaign will be evaluated during the summer.