Senior Torii Hunter produced the highlight of the day, early enrollee freshman Kevin Stepherson made key plays for the victors, and both DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire led touchdown drives Saturday afternoon as Kizer’s Blue defeated Zaire’s Gold, 17-7 in the 87th Annual Blue Gold Game.
Kizer’s best efforts came on the contest’s opening drive, a crisp 75-yard march in which the program’s 2015 season-saver connected on passes of 16, 13, and 25 yards to set up a 16-yard touchdown run by sophomore Dexter Williams.
Kizer’s ensuing efforts in his one half of action came up empty save for an end-half drive that culminated in a John Chereson field goal and a 10-7 lead at the break. Kizer set up the score with a pretty sidearm throw and gain of 15 yards to sophomore Alizé Jones to set up Chereson’s boot.
Neither starter participated in the second half, one that included a running clock and just one touchdown drive, that engineered by fourth-string quarterback Montgomery VanGorder who scored late on a keeper from two yards out.
“Those were indeed designed runs to get VanGorder in the end zone against his dad,” Kelly joked post-game in reference to his defensive coordinator and Montgomery’s father, Brian.
Zaire’s lone touchdown march came on his fifth drive, one he capped with a 13-yard scramble to the vacated right side after dodging would-be tacklers in the pocket. Zaire’s score was set up by his own 50-yard strike to the aforementioned Hunter who reeled in the throw with one hand despite tight coverage by sophomore Nick Coleman.
“I think it puts him over the hurdle mentally,” said Kelly of Zaire’s scrambling score. “He felt really good coming back, that he got that run in and through traffic. It puts him now were that (broken ankle) injury is in the rearview mirror.”
The final tally shows six drives for Zaire with an end result of 7 points vs. five from Kizer for 10.
The game ball, however, was awarded to junior punter Tyler Newsome who dropped two offerings inside the 10-yard line including one inside the Gold’s two-yard line, a “coffin corner” offering applauded by the crowd. Newsome punted for both teams, averaging better than 52 yards on seven kicks with a long of 64.
Hunter led the Gold squad and all receivers with 79 yards while Stepherson paced the Blue with 74 on four receptions. Stepherson was unable to reel in a perfect pass from Kizer on the quarterback’s second possession, one that would have gained in excess of 40 yards down the right sideline.
He shined otherwise.
“I don’t know if we have a player on our team like Kevin Stepherson that can catch the ball at full speed going across the field,” said Kelly. “It’s a unique trait that I have not seen since I’ve been here at Notre Dame.”
Neither team committed a turnover on the afternoon but both offenses struggled on third down with Zaire’s Gold squad finishing 3-for-9 (Zaire was 2-for-6 during his field time) and Kizer’s Blue team converting 6 of 13 chances including 4-for-9 with Kizer at the controls, a number that improves to 5-for-10 with the starter hitting Stepherson for a fourth-down conversion to set up Chereson’s field goal.
Kizer completed 10 of 17 throws for 113 yards while Zaire hit for 120 yards, connecting on just six of 15 passes. Defensive backs Avery Sebastian, Max Redfield, and Cole Luke led all tacklers with six stops in a pass-centric contest.
Asked about Zaire’s development through rehabilitation this spring, Kelly offered, “What I saw was Malik develop more of an understanding of what we did offensively last year. The offense developed under Kizer last year, not Malik, so he was in a bit of a disadvantage coming into the spring.
“He caught up,” Kelly added. “Now you’ve got the race and it will be decided in camp. I’ve never had, in my entire career, two quarterbacks that you can run the same kind of offense.”