Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina's offense came away with eight scoring drives including six touchdowns and two field goals, while the defensive unit created five takeaways and blocked a pair of field goals to highlight Saturday afternoon's first preseason scrimmage for the Catamount football team at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field.
On a hot and muggy afternoon on the turf, the Catamounts ran just over 100 plays in a scrimmage that lasted just over two hours, dodging rain drops and concluding just before the bottom fell out on a summertime shower.
"I believe that we can have a really good football team," said sixth-year head coach Mark Speir during comments following Saturday's first scrimmage. "I was really impressed with the way our defense flew around today. I thought that they tackled very well for the most part, a lot of guys pursuing the ball. And I think for the majority of the day, they were there to make plays."
Speir added, "As a whole, I thought that it was a good go today. We'll evaluate the film and get back to work on Monday."
Five quarterbacks split the offensive reps on Saturday afternoon with two wearing the protected red jersey and three going live against the defense. Returning starter Tyrie Adams completed 8-of-16 passes for 117 yards with a touchdown and an interception, while Wes Holcombe -- who like Adams wore the red jersey -- went 7-for-11 for 44 yards and a score through the air. Adams added 16 yards, unofficially, on the ground with Holcombe scrambling for an eight-yard gain on one of his few rushing opportunities. The two combined to lead five scoring drives with four TDs and a field goal.
Among the trio of live QBs, local product Ray Smith completed four passes for 18 total yards, but orchestrated the remaining three offensive scoring drives including two touchdowns and a field goal. The Bryson City, N.C., native rushed for the final score of the scrimmage in a goal line scenario, finishing with 15 yards on the ground. Freshmen quarterbacks Will Jones and D.J. Thorpe both saw snaps during the scrimmage with Jones connecting on a pair of passes for 44 yards with an interception, while Thorpe misfired on his four attempts.
A combined 13 different players recorded receptions for the WCU offense on Saturday. Redshirt senior wide receiver Steffon Hill tallied a pair of double-digit yard receptions including a 39-yard score on a pitch-and-catch from Adams early in the scrimmage. Just like he did in the Spring Game, redshirt sophomore Tyler Mitchell caught four passes totaling 62 yards, catching a 31-yard TD pass over the top of the defense from Holcombe. Also tallying multiple receptions were tight end Owen Cosenke with three catches for 20 yards, freshman wide receiver Keshaun Abel with three catches for 39 yards, and receiver Brad Swan hauling in two for 14 total yards.
Five running backs split the carries on Saturday with senior Detrez Newsome rumbling for a team-best 73 yards on just five carries that included a long of 59 yards. Local product, freshman Caleb Ferguson, rushed eight times for 68 yards and a touchdown, while senior James Foushee toted the ball 10 times for 48 yards, adding a 12-yard reception. Junior RB Corey Holloway collected a team-high 11 touches for 23 yards with a two-yard score in goal line situations, adding 13 receiving yards out of the backfield. Redshirt freshman Donnavan Spencer ran for 23 yards on three carries while adding a pair of receptions before coming out of the scrimmage.
Defensively, two Catamounts had standout days during Saturday's scrimmage. Junior linebacker Mitchell Chancey was credited with a scrimmage-high 11 tackles including two for loss with a sack. His classmate, safety JerMichael White, finished with six tackles including a sack, and was a part of two turnovers by recovering a fumble and tallying an interception. White, a product of Johnson City, Tenn., also blocked one of the two kicks by the defensive special teams.
Other defensive highlights from Saturday included interceptions by John Brannon, who returned it for a touchdown, and a third by senior Keion Crossen, who also added two additional pass break-ups. Converted linebacker Tahjai Watt was credited with seven tackles with a sack and a forced fumble while Shamon Elliott finished with seven total stops and Devarius Cortner credited with four tackles.
Up front, defensive linemen Ezavian Dunn, Jake Helms, and Nate Link each finished with three tackles apiece, while senior defensive back Tra Hardy and freshman linebacker Ty Harris also tallied three tackles.
Freshman kicker Joel Poinsette handled all of the placekicking duties on Saturday beginning with the special teams kickoff segments. The Greenville, S.C., native connected on all five point after touchdown (PAT) attempts and nailed a pair of field goals including a 45-yarder and bouncing a 28-yarder off the upright and through. However, the defensive special teams unit managed to block two field goal attempts of 20 and 37 yards on Saturday afternoon.
Redshirt junior punter Ian Berryman and senior Destry Barnwell split the punting duties, both finishing with four attempts apiece. Berryman averaged 54.5 yards per punt, aided by a long kick of 74 yards including the bounce and roll into the end zone, while Barnwell averaged 45.8 yards per boot with a long of 59 yards.
Western Carolina breaks from practice on Sunday with film and walk-thru sessions planned, returning to the practice field Monday morning at 9:15 for its final week of fall camp prior to the start of fall classes.
Both season and single-game tickets for all five home dates of Western Carolina's 2017 football season are on sale now through the WCU Athletics Ticket Office, located on the first floor of the Ramsey Center and online at CatamountSports.com. Fans can also call the ticket office toll free at (800) 34-GOWCU or (828) 227-2401. The 2017 home opener is Saturday, Sept. 9 with the "Blackout" at Whitmire Stadium / Waters Field against the Davidson Wildcats.
2017 Catamount Football -- Upcoming Fall Practice Schedule:
Sunday, Aug. 13 -- Film / Walk Thru, Practice #13
Monday, Aug. 14 -- Practice #14 -- 9:15 am -- 11:15 am (full)
Tuesday, Aug. 15 -- Practice #15 -- 9:15 am -- 11:15 am (shells)
Wednesday, Aug. 16 -- Practice #16 -- 9:15 am -- 11:15 am (1 hour scrimmage, full)
Thursday, Aug. 17 -- Practice #17 -- 9:15 am -- 11:15 am (shells)
Friday, Aug. 18 -- Practice #18 -- 9:15 am -- 11:15 am (shells)
Saturday, Aug. 19 -- Practice #19 -- Scrimmage, 1:00 -- 3:30 pm (full)
* Practice times are subject to change
Important Upcoming Dates in Catamount Football:
Friday, Aug. 18 - Western Carolina University Freshman Move-In Day
Saturday, Aug. 19 - Football Scrimmage No. 3 (1 pm) and "Meet the Cats" following practice
Monday, Aug. 21 - First day of fall classes; "Solar Eclipse Blackout Uniforms" Facebook LIVE event presented by Stanberry Insurance
Saturday, Sept. 2 - 2017 Catamount Football season-opener at Hawai'i -- 6 pm HT / Midnight ET
Friday, Sept. 8 - 13th annual Bob Waters Memorial Golf Tournament at The Maggie Valley Club
Saturday, Sept. 9 - 2017 Catamount Football home-opener vs. Davidson in Cullowhee, N.C. (BLACKOUT / Fireworks Night, presented by Ingles and iHeartRadio partners 99.9 Kiss Country and Star 104.3 FM)
Friday, Oct. 27 - "The Mutt" Catamount Football Golf Classic at the Laurel Ridge Country Club
Keep track of everything related to Catamount football and WCU Athletics through its social media outlets on Facebook (fb.com/catamountsports), Twitter (@catamounts, @WCU_FB), and Instagram (wcu_catamounts), as well as video updates on the department's YouTube channel (CatamountSports).