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April 20, 2013

Mountaineer defense holds on for 35-33 win





Football made its brief return to Morgantown on a sunny, yet windy, Saturday afternoon, as the West Virginia Mountaineers ended the spring practice season with its annual Gold-Blue Game.

With much of the focus this spring squared on West Virginia's quarterback battle, Head Coach Dana Holgorsen has remained coy when discussing who is leading the way for the Mountaineers this season. Both Paul Millard and Ford Childress split duty throughout the game with similar statistical results.

However, the efforts of the young quarterbacks were not enough to counter a strong performance for Keith Patterson's defense, as the defenders bested West Virginia's offense 35-33 in Saturday's contest.

The day started out with Millard under center, leading a solid early drive for the West Virginia offense. A 16 yard completion on the slant route to Connor Arlia gave the Mountaineers early momentum.

But the defense would step up their game beyond midfield, holding the Mountaineers to a field goal attempt for kicker Josh Lambert. The redshirt freshmen, however, would shank the kick right, giving the defense an early 3-0 advantage for a stop.

Millard's second series ended unceremoniously with a three-and-out, putting the ball into the hands of Childress for his first series at West Virginia. However, Childress would also have little success, failing to move the ball effectively against a tough defensive front.

Lambert would get another crack at a field goal after Childress' first drive stalled, but again the kick missed to the right, giving the defense an 11-0 advantage.

It would be another rough go for Childress on his second drive, as the freshman quarterback overthrew a receiver in double coverage, landing into the hands of safety Travis Bell for the interception. The pick extended the defense's lead, 14-0.

Following their first two drives a piece, Millard and Childress remained neck and neck, minus an interception. Millard went 3-of-5 for 35 yards while Childress recorded 4-of-5 for 27 yards and an interception to open up the contest.

The defense would record another stop to close out the first quarter, giving them an early 17-0 advantage.
A strong performance continued for the defense as the second quarter commenced, as the offense struggled to find any consistency. Strong running by Dreamius Smith showed some life, as the JUCO transfer bowled over a number of defenders for a nice game in the series.

However, there were few bright spots elsewhere, as the defense against forced a Michael Molinari punt to give them a 20-0 advantage.

The offense finally came to life on the ensuing possession. With Childress at the helm, the young quarterback connected with a wide open Jordan Thompson on a crossing route. The speedy receiver would dash by two defenders for a 65-yard touchdown. The score put the offense on the board for the first time in the game, down 20-7.

There was an apparent spark in the offense following its first touchdown of the game, as the unit returned to the field with a new fire. Starting at their own 35-yard line, the Mountaineer offense drove 65 yards in three minutes for the touchdown.

It was a strong running performance for Dustin Garrison, who picked up 43 yards on three carries in the drive. But again, Thompson stole the show in the end, grabbing a 10-yard pass from Millard in the back of the end zone for the touchdown. The score closed the offense's deficit to nine, with the defense still leading 23-14.

The offense would have two more strikes prior to the end of the half, with little success following. Two consecutive stops, including one on a fourth down attempt, gave the defense six more points, putting them on top at halftime 29-14.

It was much of the same for the defense as the second half opened up, as Patterson's unit continued to give the offense fits on the field. With Childress opening up play under center, the Mountaineer's defense placed heavy pressure on the young quarterback, forcing a few off-target passes and giving them an early three-and-out to extend the defense's lead 32-14.

Momentum would swing back to the offense's favor on the ensuing drive, with JUCO receiver Kevin White doing his best Larry Fitzgerald impression with a highlight-stealing touchdown. On a short wide receiver screen, White scampered around a large contingent of defenders, showing his shiftiness for a big receiver, and dashing off for a 46-yard touchdown. The score gave the offense its third touchdown of the day and put the score at 32-21 defense.

Being the spring game, with a rather open structure regarding situations for the team, Coach Holgorsen elected to start the following drive for the offense at the defense's 25-yard line. Three plays later, highlighted by a strong stop for the defense, Lambert connected on his first field goal of the day, closing the deficit to eight, 32-24.

Jordan Thompson scored a late touchdown on a pass from Paul Millard. The game ended with a failed two point conversion. The Mountaineer defense held on to win 35-33.


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