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Quarterbacks Competitive In USD Spring Game
Though it came in essentially an expanded scrimmage, Dante Warren’s performance seemed to solidify a job that had been up for grabs.
Earning the starting nod after a strong spring, the University of South Dakota junior quarterback passed for 121 yards and two touchdowns during USD’s annual Red-White Spring Game, held Friday night inside the DakotaDome.
In the end, the offense held off the defensive units 48-33 for the win.
Though he was far from perfect — he later threw an interception — Warren didn’t exactly disappoint in his debut as the Coyotes’ starter.
“I went into this knowing I’m the guy now, but I wasn’t nervous,” said the Illinois native, who completed 11-of-18 passes in action against the No. 1 and No. 2 defenses. “I was just as serious as I am in every other game.”
And in a game with a unique format, Warren got the offense started early.
On the first series, which began at the 35-yard line, against the first team defense, Warren hit junior receiver Dusty Nowotny for a 7-yard touchdown. Midway through the second period, Warren found junior running back for a 17-yard touchdown completion.
Mixing in a combination of designed run and pass plays, the Coyote offense rolled up 267 of its 365 yards through the air.
“I thought offensively, when we took our quality reps, we were sharp,” head coach Ed Meierkort said. “There’s no down time in a game like this, so these guys get fatigued.
“But it was very competitive, kind of like what we thought.”
One of the areas that drew the most attention was the play of the two quarterbacks who had been battling for the No. 1 position. Warren and junior transfer Brandon Gorsuch saw nearly equal time under center, and both faced the first team and second team defenses.
Gorsuch, who came to USD from Arizona Western College, completed 12-of-19 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown — also to Nowotny, on a fade route late in the game.
“I thought I did decent; definitely could’ve done better and I had one incredibly stupid throw,” the Rapid City native said, referring to a late interception. “You can always do better, but I could’ve been worse, right?
“I’ll probably see something on film and think, ‘Dang it, I should’ve made that play.’”
Asked later about potential areas of improvement between the quarterbacks, Meierkort pointed to the deep passes.
“One thing we’ve not been good on yet, we’re getting guys open down-field, but we’re not completing the ball,” Meierkort said. “When we get back in the fall, those have got to be touchdowns. They just have to be.”
In all, the USD offense returns six starters, including senior tight end London Landry, junior fullback Erik Helland and Ganious. A receiving core that boasts juniors Nowotny and Jeremy Blount, as well as sophomores Tom Flanagan and Will Powell didn’t disappoint on Friday.
Landry and Blount each caught a team-high five passes, while Nowotny caught two touchdowns.
“I thought there was pretty good chemistry out there,” Nowotny said later. “We mixed in the run and pass. In the last couple practices, we were flowing pretty well on offense.”
In addition to Warren and Gorsuch, USD also saw action from its two other quarterbacks, redshirt freshmen Tyler Wilhelm and Pierre native Kyle Cichos. The younger duo combined to complete just 1-of-9 passes for three yards.
Though the spring game is designed more for offensive production, the defense was also awarded points for certain outcomes. For example, a turnover was worth six points and a defensive stop was worth two.
Using that formula, the Coyotes — with five returning defensive starters — used three late interceptions to make things interesting.
Shane Potter and Julian Tucker recorded interceptions, while David Bowen added a 32-yard interception return for a touchdown. Quincy Christie led the defense with nine tackles, while Aramis Calloway chipped in with seven.
“We came out and struggled right away, but things came around for us,” Potter said. “It was definitely fun to get back out here and play something that matters more than a practice.
“We’re not supposed to win in the spring game,” he added with a smile. “But we put up some points.”
For a team coming off a 5-5 campaign and entering its third at the Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level, the Coyotes have the summer and fall ball to prepare for an aggressive schedule that begins Sept. 4 at Central Florida, according to Meierkort.
“We’ll be able to piece together a pretty good squad come the fall,” the seventh-year coach said.
In the case of Warren, he’ll spend the next four months knowing he has the starting job after two seasons serving as Noah Shepard’s backup.
“Going through spring ball at 100 percent, I found out what I need to improve on,” Warren said while signing autographs Friday night. “I just need to execute on those. We have all summer to prepare and get better, and that’s what I want to do.”
By Jeremy Hoeck, Yankton Press