Defensive Slugfest Unfolds in Braves Spring Game
The UNCP football team held its intrateam spring game scrimmage on April 12 at Grace P. Johnson Stadium in front of family, friends, recruits and the student body.
Defense was the theme of the game as both the Black team and the Gold team traded blows throughout the contest. The two teams combined for 18 total sacks, and the Gold team scored the lone points of the game enroute to a 10-0 victory.
Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Adonai Aloma led both teams with five sacks during the game. As one of Death Row’s more unknown commodities, Aloma envisions himself being a significant factor this upcoming season.
He set a personal goal for himself of at least seven sacks for the year. Head football coach Shane Richardson acknowledged Aloma’s standout performance.
“I thought he played with great energy and great intensity out there,” he said. “He’s a young guy that hasn’t seen the field yet, but I expect him to be a great contributor for us.” “I really have high expectations for Adonai,” Richardson said.
Both the Black and the Gold team’s defenses dominated in the spring game.
Photo by Trevon Knight
The contest was a low-scoring affair and the defenses piled gaudy numbers. The sack totals can be somewhat misleading, as quarterbacks were not allowed to be taken to the ground. The offensive line also held their own as the unit’s starters played the entire game as part of both teams.
The line was shorthanded as the team awaits the arrival of new recruits and the return of key players from injury. The game started with an electric return from redshirt sophomore defensive back Devin Jones.
The sophomore almost took it the distance after some nifty moves through traffic. He was able to find a lane up the left sideline and almost outran the coverage unit before setting up the Gold team with excellent field position, starting their first drive of the night.
“I just want to produce for my team and help us get touchdowns,” Jones said. “I want to make my teammates better and just help us win. I worked on my vision and my ball security and I worked on my balance, so that when I get hit, I don’t fall the first time,” he said. “It takes a lot of people to bring me down.”
With the short field returning, starting quarterback Dominick Samson would put up the game’s first points and only touchdown of the defensively dominated outing. He connected with fellow redshirt freshman Corey West on a 30-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone, underneath the goal post for the touchdown.
West was able to find success in the short passing game and came up with a couple nice snags across the middle.
“I felt like I started hot, but then towards the end we want to be able to finish a little bit more,” Samson said. “We scored on that first drive, but we like to complete passes later on, get in sync with the receivers and finish the game off a little stronger.”
Neither offensive team was able to find much traction in the remainder of the first half. The two-way offensive line struggled to find their footing in the ground game as well as protecting the passers.
“The O-line has gotten a lot better, getting older like everybody else, more seasoned and to be honest, they’re going against probably the best D-line that I’ve ever played against dayin and day-out,” Samson said. “So that will only make them better come fall.”
Although the Black team struggled to muster much offense, they were able to keep their Gold team counterparts at bay. Booming punts from redshirt sophomore Isaac Parks nearly covered the length of the field and consistently pinned them back deep.
Samson’s targets were divided between the two teams and he was without top target redshirt junior Quay Threatt, due to injury. Samson was able to display chemistry with redshirt freshman receiver Tyshawn Carter, often going his way on his initial reads and after he went through his other progressions.
“I feel like I have a strong connection with a lot of our receivers,” Samson said. “Unfortunately, some of them were on the other team, so I wasn’t able to throw to them yesterday, but we have a lot of great young receivers are starting to learn the offense a little more.”
Carter had perhaps the best offensive play aside from the first quarter touchdown. He made an acrobatic leaping grab on the sidelines to move the chains for the Gold squad.
“Honestly, I wasn’t prepared for it,” Carter said. “I tried to turn my back to him [the defender] because I was bracing for the hit, but I caught it.” The seven-man rotation of offensive linemen could not provide consistent protection in the passing game, but were able find a semblance of a rushing attack for both teams as the game went on.
“We were not able to role guys as much as we’d like to, so they can’t get much of a break,” Richardson said. “They had to play every play on both sides, so that makes it tough for them.”
“They’ve been doing a very solid job all spring and you got to hand it to them, they continue to try to persevere through and they get worn down pretty quick,” he said. Coach credited redshirt junior running back Quadrin Williams as a spark plug not just for Gold offense, but for that entire sideline.
“Because of his leadership, their morale and their intensity and their energy is just on a different level,” Richardson said. “It was different than the Black squad’s tonight and that was a big reason why the Gold squad outperformed the Black squad.”
The connection between Samson and Carter continued to show the quarterback’s trust in the young receiver. He consistently got open and made tough contested catches. The two showed good timing with one another as the Gold team’s offense began to move the ball down the field late in the second quarter.
This was before sophomore kicker Alex Alvarado missed his first attempt of the night wide left. In the second-half of play, both defensive lines continued the theme of the day and constantly applied pressure. The Gold team collapsed the pocket with interior, and the Black team brought the heat off of the edge. Senior defensive linemen Tajai Liles was a force for the Gold defense up the middle as he led in defensives sacks with three.
“He got off the ball really well and he looked very impressive at the defensive end spot,” Richardson said. “I thought defensive interior wise Domenique Davis really did a great job.” Jones continued to show off his talent as a return man with an impressive punt return, following another thunderous boot from Parks.
The Gold offense stalled out again after redshirt sophomore defensive back Michael Clark was able to out-leap Carter to break up a pass. This would’ve been a touchdown from Samson down the seam.
The Gold team got the ball back after an uneventful possession from the Black team. Prince bounced outside for a huge gain down the left sideline and weaved through defenders with some nice jump cuts to gain some extra yards.
Alvarado’s second attempt of the day fell just short of crossing the goal post for a 48-yard field goal. A negated interception by linebacker Colton Weeks form quarterback Austin Foley, and a huge loss of yardage were a factor.
A blown-up shovel pass to Williams by defensive end Tyler Hinton caused the loss in yards. Hinton had an incredible night as he constantly wreaked havoc in the Gold team’s back field, in both the running and passing game.
The Black and Gold teams faced off n the 2018 spring game.
Photo by Trevon Knight
The redshirt senior applied constant pressure up the middle and on the edge. He finished the game with three disruptive tackles for losses and a pair of sacks. On a particular run play in the first quarter, he showed great closing speed when he brought down Williams for a loss as he attempted to reverse field.
“He’s very solid against the run and the pass,” Richardson said. “I think tonight was very good for him as well.” “He proved it last year and we expect big things out of him this year,” he said. The Black team did not go quietly as they forced the game’s lone turnover.
They also forced Williams to fumble as he was about to cross the goal line for what would’ve been the second touchdown for the Gold squad and the game. The Gold team however, scored the final points of the game. Alvarado was finally able to convert on a long field goal attempt as his 49-yarder just made it over the goal post to secure the 10-0 victory.
“I think [Alvarado’s] confidence can continue to grow, his strength will continue to grow, and I really like his consistency, so I feel really good about him in the kicking game,” Richardson said. “Isaac Parks will give us a great boost at punting also and with those two guys, I think we have some real big threats in the kicking game.”
The Braves implemented a new format for deciding which players would play on which team. On April 11, the day before the actual game took place, the entire team gathered to host the first-ever Spring Game Draft at the Bob Caton Field House.
“The guys got to choose their own teams and we tried to keep it as close to a real game as we could,” the head coach said. “The two modifications were that the quarterbacks had a red jersey on and we tried to keep the game clock moving a little bit more than what we would, but otherwise everything was very live and there was a lot of good football taken place here.”
Coach thought the draft brought about another level of intensity to the game, because they took pride in being able to choose their own teams and they knew what was at stake. He believes that it was a really competitive contest and that the Black squad’s defense, with their vast amount of talent, could have made a big play at any time to turn the tides of the game.
He was pleased with what he saw from the overall performance of the Gold team on both sides of the ball from an intensity and execution standpoint. They scored the game’s only points and held the opposition scoreless.