Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina conducted its first official intrasquad scrimmage of the preseason on a hot and humid Saturday afternoon at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field. Both the offensive and defensive units had bright moments during the squad's 11th practice session of the preseason, and the centerpiece of a busy day on the WCU campus.
The Catamounts worked through approximately 127 plays in 23 different series with varying starting locations during Saturday's live head-to-head scrimmage. WCU's offense scored two touchdowns and converted three field goals on the day, charting six drives that spanned eight-or-more plays. The defensive unit forced four punts and a missed field goal prior to the break, and was credited with three safeties in the long-field scenarios. The defense also blocked a late field goal attempt.
"I really thought it was a positive day," said third-year head coach Mark Speir following Saturday's scrimmage. "One of our biggest problems last season was not getting out to a fast start; but that was biggest thing I was proud of today. The defense came out and got a three-and-out which defensively is a great start. Then the offense, on their second series, came right out and hit Helms on a big touchdown play. I was proud that all three phases early in the scrimmage had good things happening."
"My overall assessment of the first scrimmage, I was very pleased with both sides of the ball and the kicking game," Speir said.
Working primarily with the first team unit, junior quarterback Troy Mitchell led all quarterbacks by completing 17-of-23 for 224 yards and both touchdown tosses. Senior quarterback Garrett Brown connected on 6-of-11 passes with the second team, throwing for 78 yards. Freshmen QBs Jackson McDonald and Wes Holcombe - both removed from the safety of the gold jersey for the live scrimmage - combined to go 7-for-12 for 70 combined yards with McDonald finishing 3-for-4 for 44 yards and Holcombe completing half of his eight attempts for 26 yards through the air. McDonald did orchestrate a 14-play drive that ended in a field goal.
"I thought Troy Mitchell had an outstanding day," said Speir. "He threw the ball today as good as I've seen since he's been here. He's had a great camp and has thrown that way all camp. He's got more confidence in his receivers, they're running better routes and catching the ball - we had very few drops today."
A combined 13 different wide receivers hauled in passes on Saturday afternoon. Redshirt sophomore C.J. Goodman led the team with 83 yards on three catches while redshirt junior Karnorris Benson paced the unit in receptions with five for a total of 47 yards and a touchdown coming during red-zone drills. Tight end Michael Helms, Jr., had two catches for 73 yards including a scrimmage-long 63-yard scoring strike from Mitchell that capped a five-play drive that spanned a total of 80 yards.
Five backs split reps running the football, led by junior Darius Ramsey who toted the ball 10 times for 28 yards and added a pair of receptions for 16 yards out of the backfield. Freshman Detrez Newsome rushed a team-high 12 times, but was limited to just four total yards by the WCU defense. The Catamounts even got a look at tight ends London Richardson and Roderick Poag in the backfield. Richardson was credited with three touches for 20 yards, impressing those fans in attendance with his downhill style.
WCU's quarterbacks also added to the rushing yardage total, but were not calculated because two of the four were protected in the gold jerseys during the otherwise live scrimmage.
Defensively, 18 different Catamounts were credited with four-or-more tackles during Saturday's scrimmage led by redshirt freshman linebacker Daniel Riddle with 11 total tackles including two for loss - one coming with offense backed up against its own goal line for a safety. Redshirt junior K.P. Hicks tallied eight stops with a team-high three tackles for loss including a pair of sacks and a pass break-up.
Highlighting WCU's defensive line play was freshman Derrick Davis who finished with six tackles including two for loss and a sack, with redshirt freshman Tahjai Watt recording five tackles with one for loss and a team-high three quarterback hurries. Sophomores Daniel Nash and Fred Mooring combined for nine tackles including three for loss and three sacks with Nash recording a safety.
All told, WCU's defense was credited with 18 tackles for loss with eight sacks.
In early practice special teams drills, three kickers successfully punched through 30-yard field goals as senior Richard Sigmon, redshirt sophomore Blake Metcalf and freshman Tim Gawert each took a rep. During the scrimmage, Sigmon connected on two field goals of 20 and 35 yards with Metcalf splitting the uprights from 19 yards out after a 13-play drive stalled inside the five-yard line. Gawert missed the long attempt of the scrimmage just wide left from 48 yards out, and had an attempt blocked late in the practice.
Metcalf and newcomers Destry Barnwell and Ian Berryman split the punting chores on Saturday with Barnwell connecting on a 71-yard punt-and-roll, while Berryman bounced a 53-yard boot into end zone for a touchback.
Several Catamounts were held out of Saturday's first scrimmage due to injury or further precautionary measures by the WCU Sports Medicine staff. On offense, junior offensive lineman Hunter Kirby missed the action, as well as redshirt freshman tight end Tyler Sexton, freshman tailback Corey Holloway and receivers Terryon Robinson and Tyran Reynolds. Defensively, the line was short a couple of bodies in ends Caleb Hawkins and Andrew Mayton and defensive tackle Tyler Junius, with linebacker Tyson Dickson held out
WCU will hold its Photo / Media Day on Sunday afternoon in the first off-day of the preseason. The squad returns to the practice field Monday morning with a fully-padded practice before its third two-a-day session on Tuesday. The Catamounts will scrimmage again on Wednesday afternoon.
2014 Catamount Football - Upcoming Fall Practice Schedule:
Sun., August 10: No Practice - WCU Photo/Media Day, 2:00 pm
Mon., August 11: Practice #12 - 10:00 am (full pads)
Tues., August 12: Practice #13 - 10:00 am (full pads); Practice #14 - 5:25 pm (shells)
Wed., August 13: Practice #15 - Scrimmage, 4:30 pm (full pads)
Thurs., August 14: Practice #16 - 2:30 pm (shells)
Fri., August 15: Practice #17 - 9:15 am (full pads); 2:30-5:30 pm, Help Freshman Move-In
Sat., August 16: Practice #18 - Scrimmage, 10:30 am (full pads)
Sun., August 17: Practice #19 - 2:00 pm (shells)
* Practice times are subject to change
Important Upcoming Dates to Remember:
Wed., August 13 - Catamount football intrasquad scrimmage (4:30 pm)
Wed., August 13 - Catamount women's soccer vs. Winthrop (exhibition) (6:00 pm)
Fri., August 15 - Catamount women's soccer vs. UNC Asheville (exhibition) (7:00 pm)
Sat., August 16 - Catamount football Intrasquad scrimmage (10:30 am)
Mon., August 18 - First day of fall classes at WCU
Fri., August 22 - Catamount women's soccer vs. Eastern Kentucky (2014 home opener), 7 pm
Sun., August 24 - Catamount women's soccer vs. East Carolina, 2:00 pm
Mon., August 25 - Catamount Football single-game tickets go on sale
Fri., August 29 - Catamount cross country hosts the Western Carolina Invitational, 6:30 pm
Sat., August 30 - 2014 Catamount Football season opener at USF in Tampa, Fla.
Fri., Sept. 5 - 10th Annual Bob Waters Memorial golf tournament; Maggie Valley Club, Maggie Valley, N.C.
Sat., Sept. 6 - 2014 Catamount Football home opener vs. Brevard in Cullowhee
Fri., Sept. 26 - The Upstate Classic golf tournament; The Preserve at Verdae in Greenville, S.C.