In their final day at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, the Husky football team put on a two-hour scrimmage while an impressive crowd of around 500 onlookers huddled around the field to take it all in.
The fans didn’t leave disappointed.
From the first kickoff on, it was apparent that this was going to be no ordinary scrimmage. Roc Alexander took the opening kickoff, found a gap and hit it at full stride. It looked like he had a chance to go the distance until place kicker Michael Braunstein stopped the speedy corner in his tracks. The hit sent a roar through the crowd of Husky faithful.
That wasn’t the play, however, that will stick in the minds of those who attended.
That honor goes the combination of Reggie Williams and Cody Pickett, who connected for the play of the day. Pickett stood in the pocket, avoided a blitzing Scott White and Tim Galloway, and heaved the ball in No. 1’s direction. Reggie, who was smothered defensively by Sam Cunningham, jumped high for the ball, contorted his body, reached out his right arm, and pulled it in for the miraculous reception.
Those were the highlights, but what was more meaningful was what the Huskies got done on the field.
At tailback, Scott Ballew led all rushers with seven carries for 44 yards, but that came against the third-team defense. Shelton Sampson lined up in the backfield from the start, but never once found a hole in his nine carries. His longest run went for only two yards as he finished with just seven yards on the day. Sampson’s most forgettable carry came at the three yard line with the offense facing third down and goal, as he leaped to attempt to get in the endzone but coughed up the football instead. The defense recovered for a costly turnover.
Chris Singleton and Ballew each were victims of fumblitis as well. Both put the ball on the carpet once.
Singleton came into the game second, and finished with 10 carries for 32 yards. His best carry of day came when the junior from Etiwanda, Calif. broke two tackles for a gain of seven yards and a first down.
Kenny James, the third-stringer on Saturday, had eight carries for 12 yards and a touchdown.
Rich Alexis busted a big run in his second attempt, and that appeared to give him confidence for the rest of the scrimmage. Alexis, the fourth tailback to enter the playing field, had five carries for 22 yards and touchdown.
Washington head coach Keith Gilbertson said after the scrimmage that he was impressed by what each of the tailbacks did on the field, but still hasn’t decided on who will be the starter in two weeks in Columbus, Ohio.
Uncertainty also remains at the backup quarterback spot, where neither Casey Paus or Isaiah Stanback played well enough to warrant a No. 2 spot on the depth chart. Paus looked poised and comfortable with the offense, but had a couple passes deflected or batted down. He finished 7-11 with 56 yards and no touchdowns, no interceptions. Stanback, while twice showcasing his ability to run upfield, was just 2-7 with 33 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.
The redshirt freshman’s best throw of the day came on a long toss to second-year tight end Jason Benn. Stanback was rushed out of the pocket, had to make a decision on the fly, and did so by hitting Benn in stride for a gain of 22.
Gilbertson told reporters both quarterbacks have different strengths – Paus has the experience and poise, Stanback the jaw-dropping athletic ability – but no decision has been made as of yet on who’ll be the backup.
Pickett was 8-13 for 108 yards, including one touchdown, a 39-yard catch and run to Reggie.
R. Williams led the way with four catches for 85 yards and a touchdown.
The slew of freshmen playing behind he and Charles Frederick spread the wealth, each getting their hands on the ball at least once with the exception of Charles Smith and Anthony Russo. Corey Williams was the first of the bunch to enter the field, but the rest got just as many snaps by the time the team had run its final play. Corey Williams had two catches for 13 yards. Sonny Shackelford also had two receptions, while Bobby Withorne, Craig Chambers and Jordan Slye each had one.
Russo got the bulk of his playing time at punt returner, where he was the main back each time the team worked on punt returning drills. Thanks to some wild punts kicked towards the sidelines, he didn't get the chance to really showcase his skills,however.
At fullback, Ty Eriks went without a rush or a reception, but opened a big hole for Singleton on a short touchdown scamper. Backups Adam Seery and Zach Tuiasosopo had bigger days statistically. Seery caught two balls for 18 yards, including a tough catch-and-run for a first down. Tuiasosopo, playing with the third unit, had the longest run of the day on a 19-yard scamper. He finished with two carries for 25 yards and a touchdown catch.
Up front senior weak guard Nick Newton opened a couple big holes for the tailbacks to run through. Two of his former teammates (you’ll have to read the “Notes” section to see which ones) applauded his efforts on the sidelines.
Defensively, the leadership of Terry Johnson up front paved the way up front. Johnson, dubbed “Tank” by his teammates, had one of the biggest sticks of the day on a play when he forced his way through the line and smothered Sampson in the backfield. The senior defensive tackle came up roaring.
A couple youngsters also made positive impressions on the line. Wilson Afoa, working on the third team defense, broke through for a sack. Afoa has switched from No. 46 to No. 45.
Dan Milsten worked with the first team and continued to impress, getting pressure around the edges.
The defensive plays of the day, however, came from the middle and back end of the defense.
Tyler Krambrink picked off a deflected pass thrown by Stanback and bulldozed his way 30 yards to inside the 10-yard-line.
Freshman C.J. Wallace came up with an interception on a pass from Stanback intended for backup tight end Andy Heater. Wallace outfought Heater for the ball in the endzone and came up with the pick, much to the delight of the defensive coaches and personnel.
At WIL linebacker, coach Gilbertson has mentioned the name Scott White time and time again this fall. He got the start in the scrimmage as the incumbent at the position, Marquis Cooper, was suffering through migraine headaches. Cooper was cleared to play and joined the scrimmage a half-hour or so into it.
In Cooper’s absence, White did a great job of taking advantage of his opportunities. He lined up next to Joe Lobendahn, forming one of the shortest middle linebacker combos in Division-I, but packed a lot of punch into each of his hits. White also has a knack for wiggling through blocks and getting to the ball. As a redshirt freshman, he appears on the verge of becoming a difference-maker.
Lastly, the kicking game and punting games: Evan Knudson continued his excellent run to the top of the depth chart this fall by drilling all three of his field goal attempts. His longest was 43 yards. Freshman Michael Braunstein was 1-2, but missed what Gilbertson said he thought was a chip-shot.
Gilbertson says that Knudson still holds a slight advantage at the position.
Punters Sean Douglas and Garth Erickson had mixed results with their kicks. Gilbertson says that Erickson is still ahead due to his consistency, but admits that Douglas has the bigger leg. Douglas boomed a punt of 60 yards, by far his best out of the four he attempted on the day.
Captains Named: The Huskies named three captains for the 2003 season, voted upon Thursday night by the team. Those who will have the honor of walking to midfield for the opening coin toss will be seniors Cody Pickett, Terry Johnson and Greg Carothers. An honorary fourth captain will be named prior to each game.
Familiar Faces: Two former Husky offensive lineman made the trip to Olympia to take in the scrimmage, Elliott Zajac and Wes Call. Zajac, who had an injury-plagued senior season in 2002, looked much the same. Call, a member of the 2001 Rose Bowl team looked like a different person, having dropped over 50 pounds. Also at the scrimmage was Washington athletic director, Barbara Hedges.
Back at Full Speed: Offensive guard Clay Walker and tight end Ben Bandel both returned to the field and took part in the scrimmage. They had each been out with injuries.