The Georgia Southern football team wrapped up spring practice as the Eagles participated in their annual Blue-White Game in front of a sizable crowd Saturday afternoon at Paulson Stadium.
Following situational special-teams situations and non-contact offensive and defensive scrimmaging from the top levels of the depth chart, the day ended with the Eagles going live for the final 30 plays.
Adding to the festivity of the day was the honorary coaching staff. GSU President Dr. Brooks Keel headed up one offensive and defensive unit, while Leonard Bevill, a 1990 graduate of Georgia Southern and the first student to serve as school mascot Gus, served on the other sideline.
With the score based on a system of gaining or losing points depending on the outcome of each play, Bevill took an early lead, only to see six consecutive negative plays by his offense hand Keel’s squad the 6-0 victory.
“It was tough to get a win over a season mascot — err, coach — like (Neville),” Keel joked. “I’ll be ragging him for a while about that one.”
“I didn’t get carried off the field after winning the Sun Belt last season,” GSU coach Willie Fritz continued. “Dr. Keel got carried off for winning the spring game. I guess that’s another perk of being the president.”
Aside from the fun and games, Saturday wrapped up what Fritz called a very solid spring. There still is plenty of work to be done over the summer and into fall practice before the Eagles suit up Sept. 5 at West Virginia, but Fritz was pleased with the spring improvements made in all aspects of the game.
One angle that drew plenty of cheers from the spring game crowd was solid showings from Eagle kickers.
A sore subject over the last few years, the placekicking was on point Saturday. Younghoe Koo and Alex Hanks each hit on all three of their attempts — ranging from 31 to 39 yards — and the Eagles finished 6 for 7 on field-goal attempts.
Ryan Nowicki let loose a couple of booming punts, and all four efforts from the kickoff team carried inside the 5-yard line.
“I think it was good to have our kickers go with a crowd looking on,” Fritz said. “It kind of changes the feeling when we’re going live with the fans cheering. I was very pleased with what we saw today.”
When the projected offensive and defensive starters hit the field, the defense had the better of things early on. Kevin Ellison struggled to find open receivers as Darius Jones and Darrius White held down their respective corners.
Time also was of the essence as the defensive front drew some quick whistles after breaking through the rebuilding offensive line.
“It’s a battle out there,” senior defensive end Quaun Daniels said. “We’re going hard against the offensive line, and there’s a lot of pride whenever we can get to the quarterback. The main thing is that everyone on both sides of the ball has been improving all spring.”
Ellison eventually got a measure of revenge, hitting Derek Keaton on a 60-yard bomb and striking for two more touchdowns in short-yardage situations. Backup signal-caller Favian Upshaw also connected on a deep ball, finding Montay Crockett for a 39-yard strike.
During the full-contact portion, Monteo Garrett and Vegas Harley took over their respective offenses. Harley found D’Mario Riggins on a deep route down the right sideline and Riggins made a circus catch, ripping the ball away from White for the longest play of live action.
But that was about it for the offensive fireworks, as both Steve Williams and Zander Yost hauled in interceptions and neither offense reached the end zone.
“The big thing was that we saw improvement this spring,” Fritz said. “We didn’t have any injuries and — once we got the officials out there — we didn’t have many penalties. I think we’re making progress, and now we’ll look to keep it up over the summer.”