By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
After losing most of their offensive production from last year’s team — including a record-setting quarterback, an All-American running back and an NFL-caliber wide receiver — the Colonels were looking for some younger players to step up this spring.
They’ve done just that.
And on Saturday in the team’s annual Maroon-White Spring Game, they put on an impressive display.
The two squads combined for 686 yards of total offense, including 398 yards passing, as the Maroon team defeated the White Team, 31-25.
Three different quarterbacks had touchdown passes, Jared Sanders rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries and Jeff Glover had eight receptions for 214 yards as the offenses dominated.
“I think we’ve got some receivers who are long,” EKU coach Dean Hood said. “We’ve got some receivers who can run. The quarterbacks are doing a really nice job stepping up and throwing the ball.”
Both offenses came up with big plays all during the scrimmage.
Thomas Owens, a redshirt freshman, got loose for a 62-yard TD run for the White Team in the second quarter. In the third quarter. Devin Borders caught a 70-yard touchdown pass from Seth Dotson for the Maroon Team.
On the White Team’s first offensive play of the second half, senior wide receiver Ben De La Cruz took a sweep hand-off and found Glover behind the defense for a 56-yard pass play.
The scrimmage featured eight plays of more than 20 yards.
“Things just happened,” EKU junior quarterback Jared McClain said of the big plays. “That wasn’t our gameplan. We just played the game. We took some shots down the field and converted. The past couple of years, we haven’t converted on those big plays. So, that was nice to see. You can attribute that to our coaches and players.”
The two squads ran a total of 95 offensive plays and did not commit a turnover.
“That was a big key,” McClain said. “We didn’t turn the ball over and that’s our big emphasis. That was good. I was proud of that.”
McClain has served as the Colonels’ main backup QB the past two seasons. He came into spring practice as EKU’s top quarterback and was solid in Saturday’s scrimmage.
He completed five-of-nine passes for 64 yards and also had 17 yards rushing, while leading the Maroon team to the victory.
“I believe he will be our starter going into fall camp,” Hood said of McClain. “We’ve got a good backup. Finally we are in a position where we have three or four good quarterbacks.”
Redshirt freshman Kyle Romano was impressive as well under center. He completed 12-of-20 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown for the White Team.
Sanders carried the load for the Maroon Team. The redshirt freshman averaged six yards a carry and opened the scoring with a 2-yard TD run in the first quarter.
Owens led the White Team with 84 yards on nine carries and redshirt freshman J.J. Jude had 26 yards rushing on nine carries, and also caught a 2-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter.
Sanders, Owens and Jude will likely be competing for the starting spot in the backfield this fall.
“Jared is as fast as a fart through pants,” Hood said. “J.J. Jude just has unbelievable balance. Caleb Watkins are as steady as they come. Caleb and Thomas Owens are big backs who will pound. We’ve got a good mix.”
The Colonels also hit all three of their field goals. Luke Pray hit a 53-yard field goal, Zack Burgy-VanHoose connected from 43 yards and Andrew Lloyd was good from 34 yards out.
The defense was missing several key performers. David Carter, Anthony Brown and Anthony Shoemaker did not play, but Hood was impressed by the play of redshirt freshman Avery Pitt and many others.
“I thought a lot of guys looked good all spring long,” Hood said. “I like how our defensive backs were breaking on the ball. They are very young (at that position) — and I also like how we are hitting.”
Junior all-conference defensive back Brandon Stanley (Maroon) led all players with seven tackles. All-OVC linebacker Ichiro Vance tallied six stops for the White team.