Spring Game Ends In Tie

If I've learned one thing from following the Mountaineers my whole life, it's to expect the unexpected. After watching nearly all of the first fourteen practices of the spring, the only thing that I knew for sure heading into Saturday's Gold-Blue game is that the Mountaineers would win the game. As it turns out, a 20-20 tie when the clock read 00:00 proved me wrong yet again.

The Gold won the toss, and took the ball. Charles Hales and the Gold offense trotted out on the field to begin play at the gold 30-yard line. The game's opening possession was dominated by the offense. Hales used both his arm and his legs to make plays, including a two-yard touchdown run on fourth down for the first score of the contest. Andy Good's extra point made it 7-0 Gold with the Blue offense ready to take the field.

Rasheed Marshall and company couldn't muster anything, save for a 21-yard strike over the middle to Dee Alston. An Eric Daugherty punt sent the ball back to the Gold. Hales and his troops picked up right where they left off, continuing to move the ball at will against the Blue defense. The Ellisville, Miss., native hooked up with Big East Rookie of the Year Chris Henry for gains of 10, 39, and 16 yards to set up Andy Good's 22 yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter. Two drives, two scores, and a 10-0 lead for the Gold.

The Blue offense continued to struggle, going three and out on their second drive. Daugherty did provide the first highlight of the day for the Blue team with a booming 56-yard punt that was fair caught by Pac Man Jones at the Gold six-yard line. Left-handed QB Dwayne Thompson lined up behind center for the Gold this time, and they continued to move the ball. A nice catch and nifty run from Eddie Jackson for 16 yards got the ball into Blue territory, but the drive stalled there. East Carolina transfer Phil Brady pinned the Blue inside the 10 with his 32-yard directional kick.

Marshall and the Blue offense continued to be flat. After a pass interference penalty moved the ball to the 19, freshman linebacker Marc Magro stripped Kay-Jay Harris of the ball. Harris recovered, but two plays later, Marshall was picked off by Pac-Man. The Gold offense then went three and out, followed by another three and out for the Blue. Hales then came back in for the Gold, but couldn't get a score in the final 1:58. Needless to say, the second quarter was pretty ugly. Heading into the locker room, the Gold had a 10-0 lead.

"I was pleased with the defense in the first half," noted head coach Rich Rodriguez. "The only thing I was not pleased about was the first team Blue offense."

Whatever Rodriguez said at the half worked. A more determined, better executing Blue offense took the field to start the third quarter. After losing four yards on the first two plays, Marshall found senior John Pennington for a 39-yard gain on 3rd and long. Ironically, Pennington had played the first half for the Gold squad. That was followed up by a nice eight yard run by converted safety Dwayne Mundle, and two plays later Harris burst through a wide-open hole for a 24 yard touchdown run. Brad Cooper's kick pulled the Blue to within three at 10-7.

Thompson was back behind center for the Gold when they took the ball at their own 30 on the next series. On second down and fifteen, he tried to scramble and was hit by Blue defensive lineman Jason Hardee, who jarred the ball loose. Linebacker Bobby Hathaway recovered to give the Blue a shot to take their first lead of the ball game. This time, it was Adam Bednarik taking snaps at quarterback. The offense could only muster up five yards in three plays, and Daugherty was back out to punt.

Thompson hit Henry for 18 yards on the first play of the Gold's next drive, but then went three and out. Brady got off a great punt, which traveled 50 yards before being fair caught by Vaughn Rivers. On their second play of the drive, Harris ripped off a 32-yard run. Bednarik then completed consecutive passes to Milo Austin. The ground game racked up big yardage on the next three plays, with Harris rushing for 12 yards, followed by a gorgeous 30 yard keeper by Bednarik, and finally a 20 yard scamper by Harris. The senior super back capped off the drive with a 10 yard TD run, giving the Blue a 14-10 lead after Cooper's extra point.

Thompson and the rest of his offense continued to have trouble executing, going three and out. Marshall returned to operate the last few plays of the third quarter, hitting Brandon Myles for 9 yards and Austin for 13. The quarter ended with the Blue still leading 14-0, and continuing to pick up solid yardage.

Bednarik returned to the huddle for the Blue, and hit Pennington for gains of eight and eighteen yards respectively. A personal foul penalty by the Gold team moved the ball inside the 20, and after a couple of runs by Mundle, Cooper hit a short field goal to extend the lead to 17-10.

Thompson and the Gold needed a solid drive, ending in some type of points if they were going to win the game. The Floridian hit Jackson for nine yards on first down. Jason Colson then rushed for seven yards, followed by another pickup of seven on a pass to Henry, and a third consecutive seven-yard gain on a run by Freddie Little. After Little's run, one of the Blue defenders hit a blocker and was flagged for a late hit. Little then rushed for no gain. The next play was easily the highlight of the day.

Thompson looked downfield for a target. With everyone covered, he forced it to the general direction of Chris Henry, which usually isn't a bad idea. Cornerback Antaun Rose, however, had Henry covered like a blanket. For a second, Rose had the ball picked off. Somehow, Henry pulled a rabbit out of a hat and ended up with the ball cradled in his left had with a foot in bounds. The Gold had tied the game at 17 on Andy Good's kick.

Bednarik, the red-shirt freshman from Bethlehem, PA, continued his hot passing by hitting Austin for 8 yards on first down, followed by Pennington for 14. Couple that with Mundle's north-south running and the Blue marched right back down into field goal position. Cooper's 30-yard boot put the Blue up 20-17 with just 1:19 remaining.

Thompson continued to throw it Henry's way, hitting the junior for gains of 12 and 14 yards. He also was able to scramble for a first down before the Gold took a timeout with 33 seconds to go in the game. Thompson looked down the left sideline for Henry, who was being held in the end zone. The back judge threw a flag for pass interference, giving the Gold the ball at the 16. After running the clock down to 4 seconds, Andy Good's field goal sailed through the uprights to end the game in a 20-all tie. All in all, it was a solid afternoon of football. The offense showed promise at times, but looked sluggish at others. The defense continued its bend but don't break strategy, holding the offense to field goals on several possessions.

Harris was the game's leading rusher with 115 yards on 15 carries. He also had a 92-yard TD run called back for an illegal block. Henry finished with 13 catches for 200 yards and the TD. Pennington caught 5 balls for 82 yards in Blue, and added another 4 for 43 in Gold giving him a total of 9 for 125. Thompson was 13-21 for 154 yards and the TD to Henry. Hales was 11-14 for 153, Marshall 6-11 for 90 yards and the interception. Bednarik wound up 9-13 for 75 yards, and added 5 carries for 40 yards. Neither kicker missed a field goal or extra point.

Heading into the summer, there are still questions to be answered. As Rodriguez has reiterated, the offensive execution must be better, particularly from the veterans. The pass rush improved this spring, but how will it be in the fall when camp opens? How will Tim Brown be in his first live contact in nearly a year after tearing his Achilles' the week before last year's season opener?

While we won't know the answers to these questions until August, we can ponder them the whole summer. In a perfect world, we'd all go to sleep tonight and wake up with tomorrow being the September 4 opener against East Carolina. After all, what's another four and a half months?


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