Offensive fireworks held in reserve at B&W game

Using deliberately watered-down and basic offenses, both teams in Saturday's Blue & White game didn't show too much to write home about, but enough to raise hopes and expectations about Cougar football this fall.

Head coach Gary Crowton held a draft between opposing signal callers Bronco Mendenhall (Blue) and Todd Bradford (White), essentially dividing his team into two evenly matched squads.

"I divided up the first and second teams to create more balance and fairness," Crowton said afterward.

(Quarterback Matt Berry is all smiles after his team's 14-7 win Saturday.)

The Blue Team offense got their chance first with Matt Berry as quarterback and Marcus Whalen and Taufui Vakapuna in the backfield. Vakapuna had the best run of the series with a scamper around the end for 11 yards. After a tackle for a loss by defensive nose tackle Daniel Marquardt, and two consecutive incomplete passes to Chris Hale, the blue offense turned the ball over on downs.

Despite their slow start, it didn't take long before the Blue Team regained the ball with great field position. On a bad ball exchange that resulted in a White Team fumble, the Blue Team defense too over the ball on their own 20 yard line, setting up the first score of the game. Matt Berry quickly hit wide receiver Jason Kukahiko in the back of the end zone for a touchdown on the first play of that series.

Berry commented on the overall performance of running a stripped-down offense against coach Mendenhall's defense: "It's a lot easier. I would give anything to go back and play that game again (last year's loss to New Mexico) and now we've got the good guy (coach Mendenhall) on our side."

With the Blue Team lighting up the scoreboard first, starting White Team quarterback, Todd Mortensen, completed a pass to Toby Christensen, but his offense was stalled with two consecutive incompletions.

The first quarter came to a close as the Blue Team continued to stall, running off basic offensive schemes. However, Berry highlighted the quarter going 7 for 9 with 88 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Many of those yards came in one large chunk when Berry hit freshman wide receiver Marc Hanson for 30 yards over the middle to end the quarter.

"Personally I feel good about the scrimmage today. But, you know, obviously there is always improvement that we need to make."

Crowton's quick assessment of Berry's play Saturday: "I can still see the progress of Matt Berry coming along. I think we're moving along well."

During the start of the second quarter, the White Team offense found their groove. Back up White Team quarterback John Beck dropped back in the pocket and hit 6' 7" tight end Andy Hadfield for 10 yards and a quick first down.

Running back Fahu Tahi followed up by cutting back up field for a 6-yard gain. The following play, Tahi showed good speed by scampering down the sidelines on a Beck pitch for 26 yards. The crowd finally had something more to cheer about.

Unfortunately, the White Team offense once again fell short. Wide receiver Hadfield dropped a pass, followed by a sack by Brady Poppinga and a batted down pass by 6' 5" freshman linebacker Robert Campbell. Running back Fahu Tahi highlighted the short series with two runs for 32 yards.

Berry's back up, 6' 5" walk-on quarterback Jackson Brown, took over the reigns in the second and fourth quarters for the Blue Team offense. His first play on his first series was a 7-yard sack by defensive end Nathan Kolbaba.

Jackson, however, looked impressive and demonstrated good mobility. He hooked up with wide receiver Breyon Jones in a one-handed tip back catch for a 65 yard completion. The catch was one of the offensive highlights of the game.

On the next play, Jackson rolled out with a keeper for 13-yards, placing the ball in good scoring position on the 4-yard line. Running back Reynoldo Braithwaite showed his speed and fluidity by running off tackle and untouched to seal a 5-play, 80-yard drive for the second and final touchdown for the Blue Team.

Despite being down two touchdowns, the White Team managed to make a game of it. Quarterback Todd Mortensen started the series with a hand off to speedy running back Thomas Stancil for 10 yards on a sweep.

Following Stancil's run, Mortensen ran for 17 yards on a quarterback keeper, then passed for a 24-yard strike to wide receiver Toby Christensen. Stancil once again providing nice runs for 8 and 6-yards on two consecutive plays.

Mortensen followed up by running the ball up the middle for 7-yards to placed the ball on the Blue Team's 8 yard line. He capped the drive with a 7-play, 80-yard drive with a touchdown to running back Kyle Wilson for their only touchdown of the game. Mortensen went 2 for 2 and 32 yards on the series.

Crowton comments on Mortensen's final drive of the game. "I like the way Mortensen finished on that last drive. He was very patient."

Commenting on Braithwaite and Stancil's running performances, Crowton said: "A couple of guys I was pleased with that didn't have much of a chance to show themselves were the two tailbacks Ray Braithwaite and Thomas Stancil. They showed a lot of quickness."

Much of Saturday's game was centered on giving the team a feel for game time experience without giving away any specific offensive or defensive schemes. There were no trick plays, no new formations, and no offensive players put in motion to isolate or create any defensive disadvantages.

"We want to keep our option in. We don't want to overdo it. I think we might have overdone it a little last year, but this year we want to keep it very simple. We want to be able to protect and throw the ball well. We're trying to get a little better inside run game," Crowton said.

With the Blue and White Game and spring practice officially ended, Berry talked about his summer goals and how he feels he will improve in the fall.

"We are going to come back in the summer and just continue to get better. I'm just going to get into the weight room and improve my arm strength and also get into the film room.

"I think that is going to be vital. Get in and start looking at the Georgia Tech's, USC's and the New Mexico's. It's a tough schedule but we're up to it. We are all very excited and we're all going to bust our butts in the summer to get ready.

"I have complete confidence that we are going to be really good," Berry concluded.

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