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ETSU coach sees improvement during Blue-Gold Game

Jeff Birchfield • Apr 13, 2019 at 4:56 PM

East Tennessee State University football coach Randy Sanders saw the Bucs make some major strides during Saturday’s Ballad Health Blue-Gold game at William B. Greene Jr. Stadium.

He also saw plenty of areas for improvement with the Bucs trying to replace 47 players from last year’s 8-4 team which won a share of the Southern Conference championship.

“We have gotten way better from day one, but still have a lot of work to do, a lot to accomplish before we go play Appalachian State the first game,” Sanders said. “The team has made progress although we’re young and still searching for our leaders. I think we’re talented and we have a chance to be a good football team. We need to continue building on what we’ve done and have some guys show that leadership.”

He saw some positives from quarterback Cam Lewis’ performance. With Lewis the only healthy quarterback on campus, he took every snap in the scrimmage. He finished 23 of 31 passing for 206 yards with three interceptions.

“I thought Cam did a good job for the most part and our receivers made some plays,” Sanders said. “There is no question he’s improved, but as we saw there are still some mistakes and he missed some receivers and protection calls. But considering where we were day one, he’s miles and miles better. We just have to continue to make progress before September.

OFFENSIVE HIGHLIGHTS

Lewis showed a glimpse of the athleticism which has the coaches so excited when he broke free on a scamper down the left side for a 34-yard touchdown in the first quarter. While it was unusual to be taking every snap, he used it as his chance to put extra focus on his game.

“We’ve been short of some guys with some injuries, but we’ve taken that as an opportunity to get better with the extra reps,” Lewis said. “It’s helped everybody learn a lot. Coming in as a freshman, I’ve been fortunate to get the extra reps. Everything is still kind of new to me, so it has been a good experience.”

Asked where he feels he sees the most improvement and the areas where he still needs to work on, Lewis responded, “I think I’ve gotten better in operating the offense in an effective way. I still need to work on staying under control and keeping my poise when things don’t go right.”

Among the receiving corps, Will Huzzie pulled in six catches for 67 yards and Desi Lester Jr. made five catches for 40 yards. Anthony Spagnoletti had three receptions for 70 yards, including a 45-yard catch after Lewis scrambled away from the defensive pressure.

Jalyn Williams was the leading rusher with 10 carries for 90 yards.

DEFENSIVE LEADERS

The three interceptions included one by MJ Woods where he stayed stride for stride with receiver Keith Coffee and took away the inside position. He credited defensive coordinator Billy Taylor for having him prepared to make the play.

“Coach told us the call and I just went out there and ran the play,” Woods said. “I kept my eyes right and the ball happened to come right to me. I thought he was going to try to go over top of me, but he didn’t and I grabbed it.”

Titus Tucker and Rodarious Timmons also came up with interceptions. Woods liked what he saw up front with guys like Nasir Player, JD Griffin and Jason Madufokwa, returners on the defensive front seven.

“All spring, we’ve been working as a group,” Woods said. “We plan on being the best defense in the SoCon, so we have to get out there and do it.”

While they already have some cohesiveness of a unit, linebacker Blake Bockrath said the spring is more about getting better individually to contribute to the team later. Bockrath had three tackles with his play limited to the first half.

“Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but I feel confident in our defense,” Bockrath said. “We lost a lot of good seniors last year, but we have some guys working really hard. That’s what you want to see in the spring is guys focusing on themselves and then in the fall, focus on the team a little more.”

Donovan Manuel, a freshman linebacker out of Stockbridge, Georgia, led the team with 10 tackles. Jalen Porter, another freshman, was second with seven stops, while three players — Quinn Smith, Tommy Rogers and Edward Davis — all ended with five tackles.

Watching from the sidelines, Bockrath was able to see some areas where the Bucs showed improvement.

“The linemen assignment was a lot better in the second half,” he said. “Even though I didn’t get to play, I was watching and the guys were getting after it.”

ARMSTRONG OK

The Bucs achieved a goal of no major injuries, although there was a scary incident when freshman defensive back Chris Armstrong was shaken up during a goal-line stand. The game was stopped as he was carted off the field on a stretcher at 2:18 of the second quarter.

He was later released from medical observation with all scans clear and Armstrong reported to be doing well.

SCORING SUMMARY

The Bucs added two more rushing touchdowns after the Lewis jog down the sideline. DJ Twitty bulled his way in from 1-yard and Jayln Williams had a 15-yard run. The other offensive scores came on a pair of 34-yard field goals by Logan Bowers.

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