Quarterbacks P.J. Walker and Frank Nutile lead a second-half comeback as the White (offense) team beat the Cherry (defense), 35-25, in the 2016 Cherry and White game that closed spring camp on Saturday.
Walker, who will be a four-year starter for the Owls when he begins his senior season in the fall, played like an experienced signal-caller. He was 14-for-25 for 179 yards and three touchdowns.
While many players with his experience might only play a couple series or not at all, Walker said he asked to go back in late with the game hanging in the balance. He went on to throw his game-clinching touchdown, a 25-yard screen pass to Jager Gardner.
Walker hooked up with Adonis Jennings in the first half for a 13-yard score after a Gardner touchdown run was called back on a holding penalty.
He threw a beautiful fade to Keith Kirkwood in the second half for an apparent score that was ruled a sack – quarterbacks weren’t live, so any contact resulted in a whistle – but came back on the next play for a 22--yard touchdown strike over the middle.
Nutile, who was 10-of-16 for 146 yards and two scores, hit Kirkwood on a 70-yard strike over the middle. Kirkwood dunked the ball over the goal post, which he said Rhule encouraged him to do before the game if he scored.
Starting running back Jahad Thomas didn’t play because of some nagging injuries, but sophomore Ryquell Armstead looked sharp on some early runs and performed better than his eight carries for 25 yards would suggest.
As good as Walker looked the most encouraging sign might have been the production of Jennings and Kirkwood. They combined for five catches for 119 yards and three scores.
Kirkwood transferred from Hawaii in 2014 and played a partial season after being declared eligible midway through the year. He redshirted last year after being hurt in the opening game.
Jennings transferred from Pitt and showed flashes last year. Both look capable of making big strides this season.
Another receiver Marshal Elick received the Most Improved Offensive Player award, which coach Matt Rhule said almost went to Jennings.
Linebacker Stephaun Marshall earned the Bresani Award for spirit, offensive lineman Jordan Jones was the Gavin White Local 215 Award for most improved non-scholarship athlete and defensive back Nate Hairston was named the most improved defensive player.
Sean Chandler played at safety after spending the spring working at the position, but Rhule didn’t know if he would play at safety or return to corner in the fall. The move was made to allow Chandler to be more versatile. Chandler said he preferred safety but would play wherever he was needed.
Wide receiver Romond Deloatch played some at defensive end, but Rhule was also non-commital about the move being permanent.
The Owls open the 2016 season on Sept. 2 against Army at Lincoln Financial Field.