The Stetson football team braved sweltering temperatures on Saturday afternoon at the Hatters’ Athletic Training Center for a two-and-a-half hour scrimmage, giving a group of about 100 fans a chance to get a first look at the team for 2014.
The Hatters put in almost 160 total plays on the afternoon, starting with some punt and kick coverage situations and ending with about 20 plays for just the first-year players. The result with the first two units on the field was squarely in favor of the Hatters’ offensive unit, which racked up more than 700 yards of total offense.
For the Hatters’ head coach Roger Hughes, who doubles as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, he was pleased with the production.
“I am really excited about the offense,” Hughes said. “We didn’t turn the ball over too many times and there weren’t many penalties. On the flip side, defensively I take solace in the fact that four of our best defensive players didn’t play today. We still have to do a better job of stopping the run.”
Without those players, and with the defensive line looking to find some help for end Davion Belk, the offense was able to pile up 323 yards on the ground, averaging almost five yards per carry, even with the quarterbacks taking sacks any time they were touched.
The standouts in the ground game were sophomores Cole Mazza, Mike Yonker, Dre Long, Jerami Singleton and A.J. Washington. Mazza was the top ground gainer, rushing for 88 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
“Cole Mazza and Mike Yonker are both very versatile in that they can catch and run and both guys can play both tailback and fullback,” Hughes said. “We can play either of them at fullback and then bring in another speed back, so they really give our offense a lot of versatility.”
Yonker had just five carries for 13 yards, but added three receptions for 39 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown for the first score of the day on a pass from Ryan Tentler. Long, who got most of his carries with the second offense, had eight rushes for 88 yards while Washington had 10 carries for 58 yards and a score while Singleton had 10 carries for 41 yards and a touchdown.
“Jerami Singleton has really improved and Dre Washington is a guy we have always felt was pretty good, but he has had a hard time staying healthy,” Hughes said. “It will be nice to get him through a fall camp without him getting nicked up and hopefully we can keep him healthy. When he was in last year, he made a big difference.”
All three quarterbacks had some success throwing the ball, but it was apparent that the offense clicks at a different level with Tentler at the controls. The sophomore completed 14-of-21 passes for 195 yards and that one touchdown. He also directed three other scoring drives and rushed for 19 yards and a touchdown.
“I was really happy with Ryan Tentler because I thought he played really well,” Hughes said. “When he is in there, he is directing our offense pretty well and the other kids have a lot of confidence in him.”
Backups Jonathan Jerozal and Balke Plattsmier both passed for at least 100 yards as well as the three Stetson quarterbacks threw for a combined 405 yards. Jerozal was 8-of-15 for 100 yards and touchdown, but had an interception, while Blake Plattsmier completed 7-of-12 for 110 yards and three scores.
Jerozal’s TD pass went for 62 yards to Kegan Moore, who led all receivers with 124 yards on just three receptions. He was intercepted late in the scrimmage by linebacker Ryan Gildea, who made an outstanding one-handed catch before he returned the pick 45 yards in the overtime period.
“Kegan Moore is going to be an explosive player for us, not only on offense, but also on special teams,” Hughes said. “It is not surprising to me to see him make big plays because when he touches it, good things happen. If I am smart, I’ll find a way to get him more touches.”
Crawford, who missed spring practice before returning to the Stetson program this summer, had four receptions for 63 yards, including the touchdown.
“Chris is knocking the rust off and it was good to see him get back in there and have some success,” Hughes said. “It was really to see him go make that tough catch on the sidelines. If he struggled anywhere last year it was with a little bit of concentration. He has certainly worked on that very hard and it is great to see someone who has worked hard on something have that work pay off.”
While there were a lot of standouts on the offensive side of the ball, there were also some defensive players who caught people’s eyes. Chief among that group was sophomore linebacker Cole Ripple, who made a host of tackles and several big plays, including four tackles for loss and a sack.
“We have been waiting for Cole Ripple to break out and it was good to see him have that kind of effort today,” Hughes said. “We knew he was an outstanding player when we recruited him, and sometimes it just takes a little bit longer for everything to soak in. Clearly he has worked hard this summer and I am excited to see what he is going to be able to do.”
Hughes said he was pleased with the overall performance, but knows there is much work to be done.
“I am happy, but not satisfied,” Hughes said. “We still have to work on our conditioning. We have to find a way to overcome adversity. Overall, we are much farther ahead than where we were last year, which is what you would expect from a team coming back with some experience.”
With the first week of practice in the book, and with just three more Saturdays before the start of the season, the Hatters will get a day of rest from contact on Sunday. After some meetings and film work during the day, the team will have picture day in the afternoon.
The rest will only be for 24 hours, however, as the team will hit the field for two practices on Monday, with sessions scheduled for 8:30 am and 6:30 pm. The team will have a single practice on Tuesday at 7 pm before repeating the Monday schedule on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday will have single practice at 2 p.m. Thursday and 8:30 am Friday. The second scrimmage of camp is scheduled for next Saturday at 9 am.
Hughes said the focus for practice in week two will change somewhat.
“We really want to focus this week on situational things,” Hughes said. “Last week we focused on putting everything in. Now we are going to start working on things with motion, formation changes and situational things like two minute. We want to work hard on third down and work hard on red zone and goal line – some of the things that we weren’t good at last year.”