Leak Leads Red Team to Spring Game Win

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The line from the tables set along the far side of Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium were filled with Terrapin fans awaiting autographs from their heroes, but perhaps the longest line snaked back from senior wide receiver Marcus Leak’s spot.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The line from the tables set along the far side of Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium were filled with Terrapin fans awaiting autographs from their heroes, but perhaps the longest line snaked back from senior wide receiver Marcus Leak’s spot.

That’s what happens when you score three touchdowns and grab six passes for 132 yards to lead your team to a 21-16 spring game win. Leak’s Red team, basically the first unit, will dine on steak and seafood tonight at Maryland’s Gossett Football Team House, while the White team will, ahem, enjoy beans and franks.

“I wanted to come out and make some plays,” said Leak, who started seven games last fall but disappeared late in the season. “Everyone wants the ball and when your number is called, you have to make a play.”

Leak, the 6-0, 214-pound wideout from Charlotte, N.C., has shown flashes throughout his career but has had trouble latching onto consistency. He scored three first-half touchdowns to spot the Reds to a 21-3 halftime lead and ran like Jim Brown in the open field, busting tackles. He might have had another score had not Red quarterback Perry Hills missed him in the open down the sideline.

“He has a lot of potential, he’s a playmaker,” said Hills of Leak. “He shows up for big games. He’s a great guy to have as a receiver and he made a lot of plays out there today.”

“He made some plays today, caught the ball and had guys take bad angles on him,” said Maryland coach Randy Edsall of Leak who caught 20 passes last year. “But give him credit. He did some good things today.”

And Leak did it despite some inconsistency around him. Hills, the defacto starting quarterback with Caleb Rowe sidelined all spring with a knee injury, completed 12 of 24 passes for 212 yards, those three scores and an interception. But Hills had just one completion in the second half as the Red Team got conservative and the White Team defense picked up.

In fact, when Kenneth Goins smashed in for a touchdown with just over four minutes remaining, the White team had just about erased that 18-point Red lead. It was 21-16, but an errant snap on the extra point cost the White and set off a football follies-worthy scrum for the ball.

The White defense, which got an exceptional effort from sophomore cornerback Antwaine Carter, forced a three-downs-and-out and got the ball back for quarterback Shane Cockerille & Co., one more time with just under two minutes. Cockerille, under duress all day from Maryland’s new 4-3 defense – and particularly from newly-minted defense end Yannick Ngakoue who had three sacks and batted a pass.

Cornerback Will Likely sealed the Red win with an interception near midfield in the final seconds. Cockerille finished 5-of-20 for 91 yards and struggled all day.

“Very inconsistent,” said Edsall of his two quarterbacks. “I thought there were some things they did well and then there were some things – we had some open receivers we missed on and some throws we needed to make, and we hung onto the ball too long.” Ngakoue enjoyed those occasions in particular even though it was just “touch” on the quarterbacks.

Among Big Ten leaders in tackles for loss last year as a linebacker, he looks even more dominant on the line. “I’m more explosive with my hand in the dirt,” said the powerful junior. “I’ve been working on my technique all spring. I’ve just been working on my get-off and my moves with (DL coach) Chad Witt, and I think it showed today. I can get off the ball way better (than at linebacker).”

White team defensive linemen Brett Kulka and Malik Jones also each had a sack. It was Carter, the sophomore DB from Waldorf, who stole the show for the White defense. “We could have done a lot more, it was just an average performance for the defense,” he said, though his game was anything but average.

Carter had a first quarter interception of Hills and blocked a 21-yard Adam Greene field goal as the first half expired. He also had a tackle-for-loss when Hills thought he could quick screen to Carter’s side to DeAndre Lane.

“I was just out there having fun, like my coaches told me,” he said. “They said just execute plays and don’t worry about mistakes. If you make a mistake, put it behind you.”

After the Red defense stopped the White team on the game’s first possession (Ross stuffed on fourth down), Hills took the Red 39 yards in five plays, hitting Leak across the middle for the first of his three scores. Leak broke several poor tackles en route to the 7-0 lead at 7:58.

“We had all vertical (routes) and I had a shallow route coming across the middle,” said Leak. “I caught the ball and tried to get up field like coach teaches us to do, and I broke a few tackles and got into the end zone.”

Cockerille and the White team were three downs and out their next try, the Red flexing that defensive muscle, Ngakoue with a sack and then Likely hitting Jacquille Veii for an 8-yard loss on a swing pass.

For the Reds, Hills hit Albert Reid for 12 yards and first down but on a fourth-down play, Carter stepped in front of his pass in the flat for an interception.

Brandon Ross got rolling on the next White drive, cracking for runs of eight, four and eight yards to jump-start a march. Ngakoue got another sack to slow the momentum and the White settled for a 50-yard field goal by Brad Craddock to make it 7-3 on the first play of the second quarter.

Craddock was easily the highlight of the kicking game with that boot. The punting was again often abysmal, freshmen Nicholas Pritchard and Lee Shrader battling heavy winds and their own inconsistency. Shrader, the Red team punter didn’t see action until the second half, and then did uncork a 43-yarder and later a clutch 60-yarder with the wind that pinned the White team back inside the 5-yard line at the end of the third quarter.

The Whites had closed to 21-10 at that point, thanks to a 56-yard run by Ross to start the second half. He broke through a big hole on the right side and sprinted down the sideline on the White team’s first possession of the third quarter. Edsall said the defense, which stayed mostly vanilla, was “experimenting and a guy hit the wrong gap” on that play.

“It was just a power play and it opened up all pretty,” said Ross, who led all rushers with 102 yards on 13 carries. “I give all the credit to the line. Coach Rich (RB coach Terry Richardson) just talks about keeping backs fresh and wearing down a defense. Someone coming in and hitting a home run.”

The offensive line had moments, even with redshirt-freshman Derwin Gray out with his shoulder injury. “It has been tough but everyone has been pulling their weight,” said Ross of the line-reshuffling this spring. “The next man has been coming in and doing just as good a job. We really made a focus this spring of getting our run game going, coming off the ball and averaging four yards a pop. That has been our goal.”

Reid, who missed much of last season, had a good day, too, with 73 yards on 16 carries. Veii, back from a fling at wide receiver a year ago, chipped in 45 yards on 10 rushes but Edsall was dissatisfied with his giving ground to try to break longer runs instead of sticking the ball in the hole.

The Terrapins showed a little “Wild Turtle” formation with Reid, Ross and even Will Ulmer taking direct snaps and they ran some unbalanced line. On the whole, Terp coaches were saving most of their playbooks for the fall.

The Red offense made the game interesting, converting nary a third down in the second half and getting no first downs.

Leak provided all the highlights they needed, including a spectacular 28-yard score on a catch he took off the helmet of cornerback Jarrett Ross at 3:06 of the second quarter.

“That was kind of a busted play, scramble drill,” said Leak. “It’s something we’ve been working on all spring. He threw the ball up and I tried to come down with it.”

That play culminated one of the most impressive drives of the day – 10 plays, 77 yards. Hills completed a fourth-and-one pass to who else? Leak gained 19 yards and four plays later made the scoring grab for the 21-3 lead.

Earlier, after the Whites had closed to 7-3 on Craddock’s kick, the Red had a four-play, 70-yard march to culminate in an all-alone Leak catching a 3-yard score in the right corner of the end zone at 10:08 of the second quarter. Lane, who had a nice day with four receptions for 63 yards, had a 52-yard catch-and-run from Hills on that drive.

Reserve running back Joe Riddle started the march with a 14-yard run and he finished with 26 yards on six carries.

Senior Levern Jacobs, who returned to the team this spring from a suspension, had two grabs for 59 yards, including a beautiful catch in traffic from Cockerille over the middle that he turned into a 52-yard play that set up Goins’ late touchdown.

Cockerille made one of his nicest passes of the game on a third down as the White took over following Leak’s second score. He hit Juwann Winfree on a slant for 25 yards into Red territory but the drive stalled, Ngakoue up to his old tricks now at his new “Bandit” end position. He batted down a pass on second down and then forced Cockerille out of the pocket and forced an incompletion on third down.

Pritchard dropped a 24-yard punt to the 13-yard line, but the Red team began that third first half scoring drive after a pass interference call drawn by Leak. “He’s big and fast and tough to contain,” said Antwaine Carter.

“Today I made some plays but I feel like we’ve got a lot of guys that can make plays on the offensive side of the ball,” said Leak who admitted he had never signed so many autographs before.

Now he’s hoping the big day in the Spring Game won’t be his signature performance by the time the 2015 season is over.

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