Wyoming Offense Defeats Defense 92-60 in Annual Spring Game

April 27, 2013


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The Wyoming Cowboy football team concluded its 2013 Spring Football practices with the annual Spring Game on Saturday. On a beautiful day, with temperatures hovering around 60, the Cowboy Offense defeated the Cowboy Defense 92-60 in a game that included 99 plays from scrimmage. It was the final of 15 spring practices for the Cowboys, who began spring ball back on March 26.

Leading the offense on Saturday was junior quarterback Brett Smith, who completed 9 of 13 passes (69.2 percent) for 168 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Jason Thompson also had an outstanding day, completing 13 of 17 passes (76.4 yards) for 155 yards, and he threw two TD passes. Senior quarterback Colby Kirkegaard rounded out the outstanding quarterback play, connecting on 10 of 20 pass attempts (50.0 percent) for 105 yards and one TD. Kirkegaard did throw two interceptions.

The leading targets for the Cowboy quarterbacks were senior wide receiver Robert Herron, who led the Pokes with 116 yards receiving on four receptions. Two of Herron's catches resulted in touchdowns of 36 and 26 yards. Both those TD passes were thrown by Smith. Junior wide receiver Jalen Claiborne also recorded a 100-yard receiving day, catching a team high five passes for 100 yards. Claiborne, like Herron, caught two TD passes -- a six-yarder from Thompson and a 57-yarder from Smith. The offense threw a total of six touchdown passes in the game. The other two were a 41-yard completion from Thompson to junior wide receiver Justin Berger and a 23-yard connection from Kirkegaard to redshirt freshman wide receiver Eric Nzeocha.

For the defense, redshirt freshman outside linebacker Lucas Wacha began the game on a high note, intercepting a pass on the first possession of the game and returning it 16 yards. Wacha continued his outstanding play throughout the day, leading the Cowboys in tackles, with eight and breaking up another pass. Senior defensive back Marqueston Huff came up with the other interception for the defense. Huff picked off a pass in the second quarter and returned it 54-yards for a touchdown. He was the second-leading tackler for the Pokes on Saturday, recording six total tackles.

"I thought there was a lot of spirit, a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of energy out there today," said fifth-year Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen. "There were a lot of good things on both sides of the football.

"The (number) one defense played well when they were out there except for one drive. "I thought the (number) one offense started out slow, but picked it up and got going. The big thing is we got through healthy, which is the number one thing in the Spring Game. Overall, I thought our kids had a productive spring.

"We started running the ball a little more efficiently, but we've got to continue to work on that. There are some things we didn't do in the game today that we'll be doing in the fall. We'll sit down tonight and continue to evaluate the personnel and continue to work on getting the right pieces in place as we go into training camp in the fall."

Saturday's Spring Game utilized the same scoring system the team used all spring to score scrimmages. The scoring system awarded the offense and defense points based on certain plays.

The day started much like it had in previous spring scrimmages, with the defense jumping out to a 21-13 lead after the first quarter. In that first quarter, the defense began the first series with Wacha's interception. The next series ended on a pass breakup by freshman cornerback Cooper Wise, off of Smith. The defense forced three successive punts on the final three possessions of the first quarter, with junior defensive end Sonny Puletasi coming up with a sack of eight yards to force the Cowboy offense into its final punt of the quarter.

In the second quarter, the defense forced another punt in the opening series. The offense committed its only two penalties of the day on that drive -- a false start penalty and an illegal forward pass when Smith crossed the line of scrimmage as he scrambled out of his own end zone to avoid the rush. The next series saw the defense commit two penalties of its own -- both facemask penalties -- but the defense held despite those two mistakes as freshman place-kicker Ethan Wood missed a 42-yard, field-goal attempt.

It was the third drive of the second quarter when the offense reached the end zone for the first time. After a 53-yard scamper by quarterback Thompson put the ball on the defense's 12-yard line, Thompson hit Claiborne for a six-yard touchdown pass three plays later. The offense had pulled to within one point at 30-29 at that point. But on the very next series after the offense had picked up one first down to earn a point, Huff came up with his interception and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown to put the defense up 42-30.

Smith led the offense on a 65-yard scoring drive in two plays on the following possession. He hit Claiborne first on a 29-yard pass, followed by a 36-yard TD strike to Herron on the next play. The defense forced a punt on the next series. Then on the final possession of the first half, Thompson guided the Cowboys on a five-play, 68-yard drive in a two-minute offense period, resulting in a 19-yard field goal by junior place-kicker Stuart Williams, pulling the offense to within one point at 47-46 at halftime.

While the defense would lead the entire first half, that one-point halftime lead would be its last of the game. Smith brought the offense out on its first possession of the second half and guided them down field 65 yards in four plays, culminating in a 26-yard touchdown pass to Herron -- their second TD connection of the day. After the defense held the offense on four downs, the next series saw Thompson lead the offense on a seven-play, 77-yard drive connecting with Berger on a 41-yard TD strike down the sideline to end the third quarter with the offense holding a 68-52 lead.

The offense and defense each were successful on two possessions in the fourth quarter. Wyoming's defense forced a three-and-out series on the first possession of the fourth quarter. In Smith's final series of the game, he would find Claiborne on a 57-yard pass for a touchdown to cap off a 72-yard, six-play drive. Senior QB Kirkegaard would guide the offense on their final scoring drive of the game, hitting redshirt freshman wide receiver Nzeocha on a 23-yard TD pass over the middle to conclude a nine-play, 65-yard drive. The final possession of the game saw freshman defensive lineman James Diamanti block a 47-yard, field-goal attempt by Williams to end the game -- final score Offense 92, Defense 60.

Following the game, Christensen commented specifically on some improvements he saw on Saturday.

"We've got some really athletic guys out there (on defense), and we've changed up the scheme a little bit," said Christensen. "I was pleased with how our run defense played. We were also able to get some pressure on the edges and collapse the pocket a little bit -- that was encouraging to see. We're doing a better job of pressuring the quarterback and creating some havoc out there. We have to do a little better job of containing, making sure that guys don't get outside the pocket, particularly as athletic as our quarterbacks are."

The defense recorded 9.0 tackles for losses of 42 yards and 4.0 sacks for 30 yards to go with their two forced turnovers on Saturday.

One of the defenders who had an exceptional game was senior defensive back Huff, who moves into a leadership role this year after starting 23 of 37 games his first three seasons as a Cowboy.

"I've been here for several years now," said Huff. "I know how it feels to be on a very good team, and I know how it feels to be on an okay team. I think one of the important parts of having a successful season is having good leaders -- not only those who go out and lead vocally, but lead by example. That is something I am working on -- being a better leader.

"I feel like another important thing for us defensively is we've really started to come together as a defense in terms of understanding the new things we are doing defensively. It is getting to the point where we can just look at each other and know where the other guys are going to be, and we are confident that everyone is going to be in the right position.

"Offensively, I really like what our guys are doing. The up-tempo -- when they really get going, they are hard to stop."

And speaking of that tempo, junior quarterback Smith likes where he and his teammates are with the up-tempo offense.

"I feel really good, and I think toward the end of spring we really started to get the hang of things," said Smith. "The receivers are getting out good on the routes, and the offensive line is doing a good job, so overall I feel good as an offense.

"Once you get a couple completions, I think everyone is more at ease. It gives you confidence, you're moving the chains and obviously that was the case today."

Smith was asked specifically about senior wide receiver Herron and how his speed provides an advantage to the Cowboy offense.

"Obviously with his (Herron's) speed it is huge," said Smith. "It makes my life a lot easier. He can get past defenders very quickly, and is really effective one-on-one."

Herron was also asked about his very productive day after conclusion of Saturday's Spring Game, what his impressions overall were from the spring, and he was asked what it is like to have a quarterback like Smith throwing the ball to him.

"I had a lot of fun today, just watching all the receivers make plays," said Herron. "It's always fun when you get an opportunity to do what you do best, which is catch the ball and run with it. There isn't a quarterback I would rather have than him (Smith).

"I feel like we did a good job overall as an offense this spring. It was good to see how some of our young guys came along and gained experience. A lot of them redshirted last year, but they got some opportunities to compete with the ones this spring, and I feel like they did well for young guys."

There were some special events, featuring members of the football team and coaching staff, intermingled in between quarters on Saturday. Included in those special events were a punt catching competition featuring offensive and defensive linemen and their position coaches, and a dance competition. Afterward, Christensen was asked about adding that element of fun to the Spring Game for the players and the fans.

"We work extremely hard all spring, and the kids and coaches put in a lot of time and energy, so we wanted to lift the spirits up a little bit today and do some things that would be exciting for them," said Christensen.

With the conclusion of spring practices, Christensen was asked what lays ahead for his team.

"Right now their focus will be on finishing up strong academically the next couple of weeks," said Christensen. "We want to make sure we finish up there on a strong note. The players will get some time off to go home before they return here on June 3 and continue to train with our strength staff for the remainder of the summer. Then they'll have about nine days off at the end of summer before we come back to start training camp."

Saturday's Spring Game utilized the same scoring system the team used all spring to score scrimmages. The scoring system awarded the offense and defense points based on certain plays.

The offense earned a normal six points for a touchdown, one point for a point-after-touchdown, two points for a two-point PAT and three points for a field goal. In addition, the offense earned one point for each play of 20+ yards and one point for each first down.

The defense earned five points each for an interception or a recovered fumble. If they returned an interception or fumble recovery for a TD, the defense received 12 points. The defense was awarded three points for forcing a punt, blocking a field goal or by stopping the offense on a fourth-down play on the offense's side of the 50. Two points were awarded to the defense for a safety, a quarterback sack, stopping the offense on a fourth-down play on the defense's side of the 50 or stopping a two-point conversion attempt. Finally one point was earned by the defense for forcing a missed field goal, tackling a ball carrier for a loss of yardage, blocking a point-after-touchdown attempt or when holding the offense to a field goal after the offense began its series in the red-zone (inside the defense's 25-yard line).

Football Fun Day to Benefit "Wyoming in Haiti" Trip
Saturday's game was preceded by a Football Fun Day from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The Football Fun Day was free to all youth eighth grade or younger, and featured the entire UW Football team participating in football drills with the children. Players also signed autographs at the conclusion of the morning event.

While the Football Fun Day was free to children, attendees were encouraged to purchase special "Wyoming in Haiti" t-shirts that were available for sale for $15 each. The majority of the proceeds from the t-shirt sales will go directly to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes' fundraising effort for the second annual trip to Haiti. Members of the Cowboy Football team will travel to Haiti from May 11-17. In Haiti, Cowboy Football team members will be interacting with Haitian youth at an orphanage in the capital of Port-au-Prince, as well as conducting sports camps for Haitian youth. The trip is again being coordinated with the help of Lyonel Narcisse, the father of former Cowboy football player Ruben Narcisse who was killed in a car accident in the fall of 2010.

"Wyoming in Haiti" t-shirts are also on sale at the Brown and Gold Outlet.

Season Tickets Available for Purchase
Fans interested in purchasing season tickets for the 2013 Cowboy Football season may do so through the UW Athletic Ticket Office either online at www.GoWyo.com or by calling the Athletic Ticket Office at 877-WYO-FAN1 (877-996-3261).