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Redbirds show off loaded backfield in scrimmage
NORMAL — In Kevin Brockway’s first season as Illinois State’s starting quarterback, it appears the fifth-year senior will have plenty of assistance in the backfield.
Geno Blow and Walter Mendenhall reeled off long touchdowns runs to highlight the offensive exploits as the Redbirds held an intrasquad public scrimmage Saturday at Hancock Stadium.
“I feel like we’re very blessed. I think we’ve got four quality backs,” ISU coach Denver Johnson said of Blow, Mendenhall, Parrish Fisher and Cliffton Gordon. “We’ve had some great tailbacks around here. That might be the best set of four we’ve had. I’m really pleased and encouraged with those guys.”
Blow rushed for 116 yards on 10 carries and Mendenhall 64 yards on eight attempts. Blow broke free up the middle for a 69-yard touchdown sprint, while Mendenhall broke a tackle and bounced out wide on his way to a 56-yard score.
“It’s always good to break a run and do well. I’m still just out there trying to prove myself. Each day I’m on a mission,” said Mendenhall, a transfer from the University of Illinois. “I got a couple good holes and was happy to have a pretty good game.”
Gordon added 73 yards on 10 carries and Fisher rushed seven times for 45 yards.
“We’ve got a lot of talented backs,” Mendenhall said. “Together I think we’ll have one of the best backfields in the country.”
Brockway completed 10 of 24 passes for 126 yards but was victimized by some drops.
“Brockway looks very comfortable under center,” said Johnson. “He is clearly and solidly the No. 1 guy right now.”
Drew Kempe paced the receivers with 53 yards on three catches while Fisher had four receptions for 42 yards.
Zach Kutch booted field goals of 35 and 31 yards.
“We’ve been through a tough camp. We’ve had a lot of contact,” Johnson said. “We wanted to get some things accomplished and hopefully get out of it without injuries. I think we’ve done that. I’m pleased and relieved at the same time.”
Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Keenan Wimbley had four sacks and six total tackles. Linebacker Tommie Westbrook led the defense with seven tackles, while Tom Nelson and E.J. Jones had interceptions.
Jones showed some nifty moves on a 22-yard interception return and also turned in the hit of the night on a crunching connection with wide receiver Matt Mose.
“I am starting to feel like a Redbird,” said Jones, a transfer from Minnesota. “It’s been a long, tough camp, but we’ve all gotten better. I’m picking up on the system pretty well. I have to be assignment correct and make plays from there.”
Johnson also may let Jones make plays as a kick returner.
“He is an immensely talented kid,” said the Redbird coach. “We’ve got him playing defensive back right now because we are absolutely committed to getting better on defense. He could be in the running back group or the receiver group. He doesn’t care. He just wants to play and contribute.”
With classes beginning on Monday, the Redbirds will take two days off and return to practice on Tuesday. The season opener is Aug. 30 at Marshall.
By Randy Reinhardt