Defense makes big plays in scrimmage

By all accounts the offense has been ahead of the defense so far this spring. That was not the case as the Wildcats had a lengthy scrimmage on Saturday. The offense moved the ball, but it was the defense that made most of the big plays, including three big scores.

The defense returned three interceptions for touchdowns, including a 99-yarder by Lamon Means. The unit, which got to the quarterback nine time, but did allow the offense to move the ball most of the scrimmage.

"I was just happy that we fought hard, we played hard and made big plays," said defensive coordinator Mark Stoops.

Linebacker John McKinney was the star of the day. The sophomore had two sacks and took a Kris Heavner pass to the house on a 47-yard interception return.

The Cats ran drills and a 7-on-7 scrimmage to start the day, but soon delved into full 11-on-11 scrimmage that dominated the bulk of the Saturday scrimmage.

Ryan O'Hara took the quarterback reigns on the first drive and had the team moving before penalties stalled things. Following an incompletion, Mike Bell took his first carry for five yards. O'Hara completed his next two passes for seven and eight yards and the offense looked good facing a second and two at the 40-yard line.

At that point things sort of fell apart. A lineman jumped, getting a false start flag, then a holding call wiped out a 12-yard gain by Bell. An incomplete pass and a sack by Copeland Bryan ended the offense's first drive.

Bell had a nice day. The junior runner had 48 yards on nine carries and also caught a pass.

"I'd like catch the ball five or six times a game," said Bell of his expanded role in the offense. "(Mike Canales) told me that will make me a more versatile back."

Richard Kovalcheck took over for the next two series and the second-team offense failed to show much. His first pass attempt was broken up by a big hit from Kirk Johnson and he was sacked on third down to stall the drive.

The redshirt freshman got the next drive as well, and things started out real well. He found Steve Fleming on a nine-yard gain on first down. Chris Henry picked up the first down with a short gain on second down. After that Bell was stopped in the backfield, Fleming caught a four-yard pass and Cliff Stanford ended the third-straight drive with a sack.

Last year's starter was the first passer to really move the team, thanks in large part to a great ground game. Heavner handed off on the first four plays. Bell and Gilbert Harris picked up 25 yards and the offense was moving.

Heavner went deep down the right sideline on the fifth play and Keil McDonald interfered with the receiver giving the offense another first down and 15 yards. A six-yard completion to Steptoe and another 10-yard run by Bell had the unit inside the 20, but two negative rushing plays had the offense facing a third and long from the 20.

Heavner looked for Charles McRae in the endzone, but the senior tight end was double covered and Means grabbed the pass at the goal line and raced untouched for a score.

"They had a chance to go up 7-0 and all of the sudden we pick it off and run it for a touchdown," Mark Stoops said. "That changes the whole game." Next it was Nic Costa's turn and it is apparent that the offense will take advantage of his speed. The first play was a designed bootleg and the junior passer raced 12 yards around the left side. Coast was sacked on the next play and flushed on the following snap but managed three yard on the scramble. McKinney, who got him on first down, blitzed on third down and sacked Costa for the second time in three plays.

Costa got the next two series as well. He went three and out on his second series, but had more success on the third drive. Bell picked up 11 yards on two carries to start the drive. Costa made a nice pass, and got a bit of luck on the next play. He threw over the middle and Darrell Brooks got a piece of the ball, but could not reel it in and Steptoe made the grab, racing out to a 35-yard gain. Means got Costa on the safety blitz on the next play and two plays after that Carlos Williams deflected Costa's pass at the line to end the possession.

Kovalcheck was back under center and he made things happen. He sandwiched completions of five and seven yards, between runs of five and four and the offense was quickly over mid-field to the 45. Wilrey Fontenot deflected a pass attempt on first down, but the defense was not as fortunate when Kovalcheck threw a perfect strike to Mike Jefferson. Jefferson found a seam in the zone, and after a brief bobble, he pulled the ball in and strolled into the endzone for a 45-yard touchdown.

It was the offense's lone score.

Heavner completed two straight passes to Anthony Johnson, but his third attempt of the next drive was picked off by McKinney and run back for the defense's second score of the game.

O'Hara finally received his second drive, but was plagued by the same problem that Heavner was. After being sacked on second down, O'Hara saw his next attempt picked off by linebacker Kirk Johnson. The senior emulated Means and McKinney and took this turnover 28-yards for a third defensive score.

The sophomore passer settled down and drove the team deep into the defense's territory on the next drive. O'Hara got little help from his rushing game, and had to overcome three penalties, but did a nice job in the air. He completed 3-5 passes and scrambled twice for gains to move the ball. A Pass to Steptoe went for 11 yards, and he was the first passer to find Biren Ealy on the day. The completion to Ealy went for 17 yards and got them past the 50.

A holding call appeared to put a big damper on the drive. The offense faced first and 20, but O'Hara's first attempt was an incompletion. The lanky passer scrambled for nine yards on second down, but on third down he was forced to fire a quick pass to the flats to avoid a sack. Ricky Williams gained just four yards on the play and the offense looked at a fourth and seven to keep things alive.

O'Hara spotted a wide-open receiver on the fourth down play, and Fontenot made early contact drawing a flag. The pass interference call gave O'Hara and the offense second life.

Unfortunately for O'Hara, the offensive line faltered the next four snaps and the drive stalled. The line had two holding calls and gave up a sack on another safety blitz to kill the drive.

Defensive end Jason Parker concluded the next drive when he picked off a third down pass from Costa. Parker dropped back in coverage on a zone blitz, and when Ryan Eidson dropped a quick out, the redshirt freshman was there for the pick.

Dropped passes plagued Costa on his final possession. A play after finding Eric Sheehan on a five-yard gain, Costa went back to the walk-on and looked to have a sure score. Safety Marcus Hollingsworth dove to break up the pass, but missed. The movement must have distracted Sheehan, because he dropped a perfect pass that his him in stride on the sideline. Had he hung on he likely would have scored.

Adam Austin finished the off the scrimmage. He completed his first pass for five yards, but the final attempt of the game was picked off by newly converted corner back Brenton Bolden.

STATS

Passing
Ryan O'Hara 6-11-51 1 INT
Richard Kovalcheck 5-7-71 1 TD
Kris Heavner 5-10-37 2 INT
Nic Costa 4-9-46 1 INT
Adam Austin 1-3-5 1 INT

Rushing*
Ryan O'Hara 2-11; Mike Bell 9-48; Chris Henry 8-(-3); Gilbert Harris 4-14; Chris Harris 1-(-2); Ryan Shirley 2-9; Nic Costa 2-16
*Does not include lost yards from quarterback sacks

Receiving
Anthony Johnson 3-26; Mike Jefferson 1-45 1 TD; Eric Sheehan 2-10; Ricky Williams 3-20; Biren Ealy 2-25; Chris Henry 2-5; Steve Fleming 3-34; Gilbet Harris 1-11; Syndric Steptoe 3-52; Mike Bell 1-1

Interceptions
Brent Bolden, Jason Parker, Kirk Johnson (TD); Lamon Means (TD); John McKinney (TD)

Sacks
John McKinney (2); Dane Krogstad; Tony Wingate; Zeonte Sherman; Lamon Means; Copeland Bryan; Jason Parker; Cliff Stanford

NOTES:

*The scrimmage was move twice, leading to a small crowd. As late as Friday evening the scrimmage was slated to be played at Pima Community College's astro turf practice field. Weather conditions forced the Wildcats to Pima on Friday, but as the conditions dried up the team decided to hold it at Arizona Stadium as originally planned. Unfortunately for many Wildcat fans, both daily papers had the prior plans in their Saturday editions.

*Although not many fans were on hand, a number of high school players and coaches were in attendance. A number of coaches and players from State Champion Sunnyside High School stood on the sideline for a very close look.


Wildcat Authority Top Stories