ADA — East Central University defensive coordinator Justin Deason was probably the happiest guy on campus after Saturday’s Orange and White Game at Norris Field.
Besides coaching the White to a 10-0 victory while head coach Tim McCarty played the role of neutral observer, Deason watched his defense dominate the shorthanded ECU offense all afternoon and put an exclamation point on a spring that everybody associated with Tiger football has dubbed an unqualified success.
“We’ve talked about being physical all spring,” Deason said. “That’s something we need to get back to at East Central — hitting people and playing with confidence.
“I was pleased with the hitting out there today,” he added. “We minimized our mistakes, and we were very competitive. I was excited with the competition out there.”
McCarty, who finished 0-11 in his return to ECU last fall after three years as an assistant at Kansas State, said the competitive nature of Saturday’s scrimmage — from the good-natured pregame taunting between the two defenses to some serious hitting from the first snap to the last in the 105-minute session — was exactly what he and his assistant coaches have been stressing for the past two months.
“Since the spring started, we’ve been trying to cultivate a healthy, competitive culture,” McCarty said. “I’m an offensive guy, and in the spring game, people want to see numbers, but ultimately we as coaches want to see defense.
“We have big momentum coming out of spring ball, but we haven’t accomplished anything yet,” he noted. “We have to do whatever it takes to make the necessary steps forward with this program.”
The several hundred spectators on hand for Saturday’s spring finale — including several top high school recruits who will join the Tigers in August — saw the likely future of the ECU offense in quarterback Tyler Vanderzee. A 6-6 junior college transfer, Vanderzee played the first half, completing 8-of-13 passes for 63 yards and interception and leading the White offense to the only points before intermission — a 28-yard field goal by new ECU kicker Matt Berrey with 4:14 left in the first quarter. “A couple of my throws could have been better,” Vanderzee said after the scrimmage. “But overall, I’m pretty pleased with today and with the spring.
“I think this offense can be pretty good,” he added. “We had some receivers hurt (three wideouts who are expected to start for the Tigers this fall didn’t play Saturday), so we really couldn’t get our timing down. We just need some reps.”
Berrey’s field goal capped a drive that began at the White 31 and finally stalled at the Orange 11. Vanderzee completed six passes — the longest just 10 yards to senior wideout John Joe — on the drive, which used up almost eight minutes of a clock that stopped only for timeouts and change of possession.
Vanderzee hit sophomore Colter Huff three times for 21 yards during the scoring march, and he found junior Shad Scarborough on consecutive throws — the first into tight coverage for seven yards and a first down at the Orange 34 and the second for another six yards.
But the drive also featured some defensive highlights, including Aerius Ervin’s stop of Shomari Grant for no gain on third-and-one and a big hit by Lonnell Rice on Grant for a one-yard loss on the first play after Vanderezee’s eight-yard connection with Huff had given the White a first-and-10 at the Orange 18.
The White offense recorded four first downs on its opening possession, then the two teams combined for just two first downs the rest of the half — both by the White on its final possession before intermission.
Kevin Boden, whose fourth-quarter interception would set up the only touchdown of the afternoon, recovered a fumble two plays after Berrey’s field goal, and the White defense got another turnover late in the second quarter when cornerback Charles Burks ran down an errant pitch from Orange starting quarterback Josh Phillips and recovered it at the Orange 24 with about 1:40 left in the half.
The White offense got a gift first down on a personal foul penalty against the Orange defense after offensive lineman Chad Roark grabbed a tipped pass and advanced it several yards on a third-and-goal play from the 18. But two sacks by senior linebacker Ryan Madison — one on a first-and-goal from the 10 after a 14-yard connection from Vanderzee to Huff and the second on the play after the personal foul — slowed the drive, and it ended at the five when senior linebacker Jarvis Pitts (who also had the only interception off Vanderzee) stopped Joe — who had caught a swing pass — as time expired.
Reserve quarterbacks Stuart Bishop for the Orange team and Maverick Lang and Robert Thomas for the White squad played the second half, and although all three had their moments, the defense continued to dominate after intermission.
Bishop completed 7-of-14 passes for 84 yards and had the longest completion of the day — a 24-yard strike to Angelo Shipp in the final minute — but was also intercepted three times. Boden returned the third pick from the White 33 to the Orange 10 with just over five minutes remaining, and on fourth down, Thomas — who was sacked by Rice on the first play after Boden’s interception — found Joe in the end zone for a 15-yard scoring strike.
The two defenses combined for nine sacks and five tackles for loss in the game, and they also forced six turnovers (four interceptions and two fumble recoveries).
Madison — who might have made the hit of the game when he met Grant head-on and jarred the ball loose for an 18-yard loss on the first play of the third quarter — joined Pitts, Rice and senior linebacker Michael Ogunleye as the leaders of the Orange defense, while Burks (who had an interception and a couple of big hits to go with with his fumble recovery), Boden, Amos Cherry, Floyd Wafer and sophomore linebacker Dustin Lasell (who had two sacks) were among the standouts for the White squad.