August 12, 2012

Several freshmen sparkle in first Golden Eagle scrimmage


Second scrimmage is next Saturday at 1 p.m. as
part of annual Gathering of Eagles picnic for fans

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – It didn't take long for the freshman class to assert itself Sunday during Tennessee Tech's first scrimmage of fall camp, making a statement that several members of the incoming group are ready to make an immediate impact.

Two plays, in fact.

Freshman Ladarius Vanlier returned a punt 94 yards for a touchdown before some of the fans had time to find spot in the stands.

"There are some really good, young, skilled freshmen," said sixth-year head coach Watson Brown. "We got a lot of good looks at everybody and overall I was pleased.

"The receiving corps looked good, the freshmen linemen (center J.T. Rankin pictured left) hung in there pretty well, (Chris) Harris' kickoffs were fantastic, and Vanlier goes all the way the first time he touches the ball. I thought Bill Dillard had a wonderful scrimmage, and (Radir) Annoor is another guy who can fly."

The scrimmage featured a little kicking and punting to begin the afternoon, followed by 81 plays from scrimmage. The defense had one turnover – an interception by freshman linebacker Jay Rudwall – and two sacks. Dillard came up with the biggest hit of the day when he stopped a receiver for a six-yard loss with a jarring tackles drawing hoops and hollers from the sidelines and the stands.

But the offense appeared to click, especially during the no-huddle sessions, piling up 501 total yards. The play-calling was split perfectly with 40 passes and 41 rushing plays. Four quarterbacks combined to go 23-for-40 for 217 yards, while connecting with 13 different receivers, while 14 ball carriers piled up 284 yards and two touchdowns on 41 tries.

"The receiving corps looked good," Brown said. "They were open and they caught it well when we got it to them, but we missed them several times."

The scrimmage came just eight days after the team reported to camp, finishing off a very busy first week for the 95 players on campus.

"We got it all in during the first week, and now we start getting better at what we do," Brown said. "We have two more solid weeks, then we begin preparing for our first game.

Punter Chad Zinchini, a junior from Hendersonville playing his first season on the team, looked strong in his limited action to get things started. His worksheet included kicks of 59 and 55 yards as he averaged 50.1 yards on four kicks. Harris, a freshman from Columbia, Tenn., followed in similar fashion by driving his two kicks deep into the end zone.

The day was a "middle-of-the-field" scrimmage, according to Brown, where his staff got to look at how the new players handled their first "live" action. He said they weren't too concerned with getting into the end zone, and that was evident on the first series of the afternoon.

Sophomore quarterback Darian Stone was sharp early, connecting on his first five pass attempts and moving the offense 59 yards in nine plays down to a first-and-goal at the eight. Instead of capping off the drive, Brown turned the team around, put the ball at the 20, and changed units on both sides of the ball.

That put senior Tre Lamb in control, and the veteran quarterback fired a strike downfield to Cody Matthews for a 46-yard play. Lamb marched the team to a first-and-goal at the nine, but that drive also was called off.

Instead, sophomore kicker Zach Sharp was called on for a 26-yard field goal try and he nailed it. In fact, Sharp and Harris were perfect for the afternoon in their placekicking attempted. Sharp made both of his field goal tries (26 and 30) and one PAT attempt, while Harris connected on a 41-yard field goal and one PAT.

Lamb marched the No. 1 unit one more time before "halftime," taking the team 57 yards in eight plays, including a 13-yard toss to Tremaine Hudson and an 11-yard hookup to Carter Crutchfield.  The drive stopped at the 13, and ended with a 30-yard Sharp field goal.

Freshman Jared Davis (left) was sacked on his third play, but he recovered to move the team 50 yards in  eight plays, including a 29-yard pass play to Krys Cates. That series was stopped by a break that served as halftime.

Matthew Hamby got the first call after the break, and he marched his unit 68 yards, down to the 17, before settling for a 41-yard field goal from Harris.

Rudwall and Dillard stopped two drives with big plays. Rudwall, a linebacker from Ooltewah, Tenn., stepped in front of a receiver and intercepted a Davis pass, returning it 24 yards. Dillard, a newcomer from Vestavia, Ala., floored Taylor Fletcher for a six-yard loss on a third-and-nine play.

Stone suffered a tough break when his long pass was dropped, erasing a sure touchdown toss.

Senior Adam Urbano, who hadn't seen any action early on, stepped in and made a major impact late in the scrimmage.  The top returning ball carrier on the roster, Urbano had a 26-yard carry that set the stage for the first TD of the day. Matthews took a handoff from Stone and raced 20 yards to paydirt.

Davis directed the second TD drive of the afternoon, an 80-yard march in eight plays, with Annoor, Josh Pleasant and Eric Belew accounting for nearly all the yardage. Annoor opened with a 22 yard carry, Pleasant had a 13-yard pickup, and Belew caught back-to-back passes for 11 and eight yards. Annoor finished it with a 17-yard carry to the end zone. Harris' PAT was good and the scrimmage was finished.

The team will hold its second scrimmage next Saturday (Aug. 18) as part of the annual Gathering of Eagles, a fan picnic beginnig at noon. The scrimmage starts at 1 p.m.

Season tickets for the 2012 six-game home schedule are on sale at the Athletics Ticket Office in Eblen Center or by calling (931) 372-3940. Tickets may also be purchased online at TTUsports.com.