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Lafayette Outing Short, but Sweet
Coach happy with Maroon and White game despite an early end due to bad weather.
Lightning interrupted Lafayette’s Maroon and White football game Friday night after just 35 offensive plays.
But in that short time, a number of players were able to create some lightning of their own as they made strong cases for themselves as the Leopards neared the end of their spring practice.
The Maroon (offense) had a 25-4 lead under special rules which were weighted heavily in its favor.
Everyone from head coach Frank Tavani on down is quick to caution that what you saw Friday needs to be put in the context of what it really was: an intrasquad scrimmage… in the spring… with a good number of key players watching in street clothes.
The player of the game? Well, it is a bit subjective, to be sure, but Ryan O’Neil, a rising junior who came to Lafayette as a scrawny 170-pound quarterback out of White Plains, N.Y., is all grown up.
He still needs to beat out Marc Quilling and Andrew Shoop in a three-way battle for the position vacated by the graduation of record-setting Rob Curley, but he took some positive steps Friday night.
He didn’t have a touchdown pass in his 22 plays on the field, but he did connect with Greg Stripe for a 30-yard gain that set up one score and a 43-yarder that set up another.
Tavani called O’Neil ‘’very poised. He’s had a really good spring, as we expected. Last year, he took all the second-team reps behind Rob. He has executed well in every practice.'’
‘’Absolutely,'’ Tavani said, when asked if Friday night’s performance give O’Neil at least a little bit of an edge going into the summer. But he pointed out that Quilling was injured in the fifth practice of the spring and did not compete again, but that both he and Shoop would remain in the mix in the heat of August.
‘’It felt good, but of course I wish the weather could have held up,'’ O’Neil said. ‘’The plays that we did get in I felt good about. The o-line gave me a lot of good time and the receivers made some great plays, especially Stripe on those two long catches.'’
Stripe is kind of a do-it-all player with toughness and speed. He was in the spot normally filled by wide receiver Mark Layton, who didn’t participate in the spring while working on his academics.
The first of Stripe’s big catches was in traffic; on the second, he got wide open after O’Neil executed a perfect play fake. It is obvious the two players are already on the same page.
One veteran receiver who was on the field but didn’t have a ball thrown his way was Mitchell Bennett, who along with linebacker Mike Schmidlein, learned before the game that they had been elected co-captains for 2010.
Bennett didn’t mind, indicating that offensive coordinator Mickey Fein may have been holding back. ‘’But we need to work on blocking, too, so that’s fine… I think we left on a good note.'’
The two touchdowns of the game were both scored by rising sophomore Vaughn Hebron, who was playing in his first spring game. He went in from three yards and from two yards.
‘’I definitely appreciated that,'’ said the son of the former Eagles running back of the same name. ‘’They got it down there and we just had to put it in.'’
‘’Jerome [Rudolph, who is battling with Hebron for the tailback spot] has all that game experience, while Vaughn had very little in varsity games other than special teams and a couple of plays. Those two guys have really stood out in my mind, and you saw the kind of back Vaughn can be,'’ Tavani said. ‘’He’s just gaining confidence; he’s kind of a young pup out there, realizing what he can do with his 195-pound frame. He’s going to be 200 or 205 by the season, the way he’s been working.'’
The defensive unit was really at a disadvantage, with Coach John Loose not permitted to unleash any of his patented blitz packages. Still, there were some good signs, especially when you consider that three guys listed as preseason starters did not take part in the spring practices.
‘’I felt like it was pretty easy for me to be a leader, coming behind [former co-captains and all-league linebackers] Andy Romans and Mark Leggiero,'’ said Schmidlein, the leader of those three. ‘’I learned a lot just being around them all the time.'’
As for having to miss spring ball, he said it was ‘’real frustrating, just seeing every one out there getting after it, scrimmaging. I feel like I wasn’t with my family.'’
With so many linebackers out, it was opportunity time for a bunch of other youngsters. One who stepped up Friday night was rising sophomore Sam Stuart, who recorded one sack and at least two other outstanding plays from his linebacker spot.
Tavani smiled when Stuart’s name came up.
‘’He’s a walk-on player from last year and we kind of moved him around,'’ Tavani said. ‘’Not a lot of actual football experience walking in here, but he’s a kind of raw talent, has some size [6-3, 215], ability, is very aggressive and loves playing football. He’s really come a long way. He was having some fun out there.'’
Placekicker Davis Rodriguez got only one play during the game, but he made the most of it. He connected on a 44-yard field goal after the defense had stopped the offense without a first down.
All in all, no one got hurt and the coaches got a final live look at what they accomplished during the 13 practices that led up to Friday night.
‘’It was pretty hard to tell, but we were productive,'’ Tavani said. ‘’I was pleased with some things on both sides of the ball. Some no-name guys were making plays. We just wanted to see who could block and tackle. I was happy with it.'’
Lafayette outing short, but sweet
By Paul Reinhard, SPECIAL TO THE MORNING CALL