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March 10, 2013

Blazers wrap up spring practice with annual spring game

VALDOSTA — Valdosta State’s football team wrapped up spring practice with the annual spring game on Saturday at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.

The defending Division II national champion Blazers split their squad into two teams and faced off in an intra-squad game.

The White team led practically from start to finish, and won the game 24-14. Three different quarterbacks led the White team to their three touchdowns.

Overall, Blazers head coach David Dean was pleased with what he saw during spring practice.

“I thought it went good,” Dean said. “I think we got better at positions that we needed to get better in. We played with a lot of effort, we practiced with effort, I thought we had great intensity throughout the entire spring. (When) you come off of a season like we had (last year), you always want to see that carry over, and I think it did.”

Many of the Blazers’ top players only saw limited action on Saturday. Starting quarterback Cayden Cochran only played two series, although he led the White team to a touchdown and a field goal on those two drives. Running backs Austin Scott and Cedric O’Neal only got seven and three carries, respectively.

Instead, many of the Blazers’ second- and third-teamers got to show the coaches and the fans what they could do. Five different quarterbacks (Cochran, Kaleb Nobles and Jacob Chesser for the White team and Devon Blankenship and Bo Schlecter for the Black team) took snaps. Six different running backs got to carry the ball, and 12 different players caught passes.

“That’s what we were trying to do,” Dean said. “We know what Cayden can do, we know what Seantavious Jones and Austin Scott and Cedric O’Neal can do in game situations. We have to find out who’s going to be able to push those guys, and can we count on (some of these backups) to play in the fall?”

The two teams’ defenses forced six turnovers on Saturday. They also combined for 11 sacks, including three by defensive end Tevin Davis. Defenders were not allowed to hit the quarterback, but the officials whistled a play dead when the defender got close enough to make a tackle.

“I thought the defense looked good,” Dean said.

On the first possession of the spring game, Nobles led the White team on a 13-play, 70-yard scoring drive. The White team faced fourth-and-15 from the Black 38 at one point, but Nobles found Tyler Rose for 20 yards, and moved the chains. Two plays later, on second-and-8 from the 16, Nobles found an open Quin Roberson in the middle of the end zone for a touchdown.

On Cochran’s first snap, early in the second quarter, he nearly threw a 57-yard touchdown pass, but Roberson, who had gotten by the defensive back, dropped the pass. After that, Cochran drove the Blazers down the field on a 12-play drive, which included a 23-yard completion to tight end Will Johnson and a 29-yard pass to Roberson. The drive ended with a 28-yard field goal by Jake Walker.

Later in the second quarter, another bomb was thrown Roberson’s way, this one by quarterback Jacob Chesser, and Roberson caught that pass for a 56-yard gain, down to the Black 10-yard line. Two plays after that, Greg Archibong scored on a two-yard run, plowing into the end zone behind right guard Kaylon Harrell with 1:21 left in the first half. The White team led 17-0 at halftime.

The score remained 17-0 until the fourth quarter. Then the Black team’s defense scored two touchdowns in a span of 82 seconds.

On the first play of a drive early in the final quarter, Nobles tried to find a receiver near the visitors’ sideline. But cornerback Xavier Crain read the play well, jumped in front of the receiver, picked off the pass and raced 30 yards down the sideline for his team’s first touchdown. Anthony Pistelli’s extra point cut the White team’s lead to 17-7.

Three plays later, the Black defense forced a fumble at the White 48. Strong safety Isaiah Gresham came away with the ball and sprinted 48 yards untouched into the end zone to bring his team within three points, 17-14.

The Black team got the ball back at its own 10-yard line with just over three minutes left in the game. But the White team recovered a fumble at the Black 30, and on the next play, Cochran found a wide open Seantavious Jones for a touchdown pass. That made the score 24-14, and put the game away.

Archibong was the leading rusher on Saturday, gaining 88 yards on 18 carries and scoring a touchdown.

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