Golden Eagles close spring practices with lively, 64-play effort

Darian Stone (photo by Thomas Corhern)
Darian Stone (photo by Thomas Corhern)

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Watson Brown got exactly what he hoped for during Tennessee Tech’s spring practices, which wrapped up Saturday in a wet and chilly, 64-play scrimmage in the mist in Tucker Stadium.

A couple hundred fans, bundled and huddling under umbrellas, braved the weather to get one final look at the defending Ohio Valley Conference champions before they head into final exams next week then break for summer individual workouts.

“We got an awful lot out of spring practice,” Brown said. “The coaches got a chance to evaluate our players 15 times and every single player went hard every day. You can’t ask for more.”

The Golden Eagles showed impressive hustle and enthusiasm through the fast-paced scrimmage in which several young, promising players continued to impress while many veterans watched from the sidelines due to a variety of injuries.

Quarterbacks Tre Lamb and Darian Stone were sharp, despite the nasty conditions, combining to go 18-for-23 for 200 yards. Runningback Taylor Fletcher raced through holes for 85 yards on 10 carries to all the ground game which netted 166 total yards.

Neal Gannaway and Connor Maitland each made spectacular catches to set up scores, and redshirt freshman Josh Pleasant, who moved from cornerback to wide receiver this spring, nabbed a 20-yard touchdown strike from Lamb.

“We had a lot of people who were out, but that gave us a chance to find a lot of other good football players. We found some runningbacks, and we had some other positions where younger players really stepped up.”

On offense, Stephen Bush, Fletcher, Maitland, Pleasant and Gannaway drew high praise from Brown. Defensively, players to earn comments from the head coach included Midoho Okpokuworuk, Luke Woodason, Jamel Cook and Will Dillard.

“We saw a lot of young players get reps, and some of them are really starting to stand out,” Brown said.

Fans settled into the stands to watch the offense and defense go head-to-head, but first they were treated to some fireworks by punter Chad Zinchini. He opened the day with a 70-yard punt, and followed with towering kicks of 62, 55 and 52 yards. He averaged 59.8 yards on those four kicks.

Moving the ball inside the 50 and asking Zinchini to kick it short, Brown and the fans saw him kill two kicks inside the 20, one at the eight and one at the 14.

The first of two touchdowns came after Gannaway made a difficult catch on a 36-yard pass from Lamb to the nine-yard line. Two plays later, Lamb scored on a two-yard keeper and Zach Sharp made the first of his two PATs.

The first “half” ended when Sharp’s 40-yard field goal try hit the right upright.

Stone directed the team on a 62-yard scoring drive to get things rolling after the brief halftime break. A 31-yard completion to Maitland was one of the highlight plays of the day for the offense. The drive included a 19-yard run by Fletcher and a 10-yard completion to Stephen Bush. It ended with a 25-yard field goal by Sharp.

Lamb was back in the pocket on the next series which featured a 21-yard pass to Carter Cruthfield and a 13-yard run by Fletcher. On second-and-four from the 20, Lamb uncorked a bullet to Pleasant as he crossed the goal line and Sharp added his second PAT.

Matt Hamby, the team’s third quarterback, marched the offense 48 yards to the 20, getting strong runs from Fletcher and Doug Page. The final play was a 37-yard field goal attempt by Sharp that went wide left.
Lamb finished 8-for-9 for 104 yards, missing only in his first attempt of the day, a pass that was dropped by his receiver. Stone started with an interception on his first attempt as Patrick Prewitt wrestled the ball away from the intended receiver. After that, the sophomore hit six of his next seven tries and finished the day 10-for-14 for 96 yards. Hamby was 2-for-6 for five yards.

Bush was the top receiver, making four catches for 36 yards, while Pleasant, Crutchfield, Page, Wade Plemons and Seth McDonald had two receptions each.

“The only disappointing thing about today was all the penalties on the offense,” Brown said. “We had nine penalties and they were all on the offense, and that stopped us on several drives. We need to be more disciplined.”

In addition to those offensive numbers, the defense also produced several stantout plays.  Redshirt freshman Zach Bush knocked down two passes at the line of scrimmage and came up with a key tackle on third down. Marcus Edwards had a quarterback sack and also made a crucial third down stop.  

Jerry King, who missed all of last season with an injury, is back in action and had a couple of big plays, one a tackle for no gain to halt a drive and another on a tackle-for-loss on a reverse.

Demetrous Garrett, who moved from receiver to cornerback, fought through blocks and delivered back-to-back tackles-for-loss on consecutive screen passes.

The “D” delivered two turnovers, one on the interception by Prewitt and the second on a fumble recovery by Stepfon Davis-Boyd.