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April 12, 2014

Offense tops defense in spring game



Following one of the worst winters on record, spring has finally arrived in Morgantown, and with it another year of West Virginia football.

It was the 2014 edition of the Gold-Blue Spring Game from Milan Puskar Center, and with sunny and 75 weather shining down on Morgantown, the Mountaineers took to the field to officially kick off the upcoming year.

After struggling mightily last season in the return game, the Mountaineers kicked off the 2014 Gold-Blue game answering many doubters. With Mario Alford and Wendell Smallwood back deep to return, those questions would be tackled rather quickly.

Receiving the kick near the goal line, Alford would return the ball nearly 100 yards, cutting inside the coverage untouched for the easy touchdown. With only seconds down in the contests, the offense already capitalized with a 7-0 lead.

Following the kick return, however, the offensive blue squad had little to feel encouraged about early in the contest. Through the first trio of drives, all three quarterbacks - Paul Millard, Logan Moore, and Skyler Howard - took a crack at the offense in an effort to increase the lead.

But in all three drives, the defense held strong. None of the quarterbacks seemed to jolt any energy into the offense, and coupled with an impressively fast defensive unit that was flying around the field, the offense stood little chance. With the always-funky scoring system in place, the defense took an 11-7 lead after the first three drives.

Defensive success continued, as another stop against Millard pushed its advantage to 14-7 as the first quarter came to a close.

Once the second quarter rolled around, the offense finally began to gain some momentum behind the rushing of Wendell Smallwood and the arm of Moore. A number of strong runs up the gut by Smallwood helped push the offense beyond midfield for the first time in the afternoon, with a 25-yard pitch and catch into the red zone.

The offense managed to go 63 yards on 11 plays before stalling on fourth down and allowing a 31-yard field goal from Josh Lambert. Moore went 4-6 for 46 yards on the drive, cutting into the offense's deficit, now down 14-10.

Perhaps that drive was just what the offense needed, as the unit returned to the field on the ensuing two drives with a rejuvenated look. An 11-play, 75-yard drive led by Howard found the end zone on the following series, with the JUCO quarterback going 7-for-8 in his third drive of the day, ending with a six-yard swing pass to Daikiel Shorts for the score.

Millard then joined in on the fun from behind center, leading a 75-yard drive of his own ending with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Kevin White. The back-to-back touchdown drives pushed the offense ahead 24-14 as the second quarter began to wind down.

The offense would receive one last drive in the first half, with Moore leading the troops into the red zone with a shifty 28-yard scramble. However, the drive would stall resulting in another Lambert field goal to send the teams into halftime with a 27-14 offensive lead.

Continuing the quarter-by-quarter trend, it appeared that the third quarter would be the defense's to win early. With Millard and Howard taking the reigns of the offense in the first two drives, the defense put together a pair of impressive stops, closing to within a 27-17 advantage.

Moore would return to the field for his first drive of the half on the ensuing possession and again impress those in attendance. Starting on the 25-yard line, Moore would utilize his arm and feet yet again to bring the offense past midfield, stalling around the 36-yard line.

Instead of chancing a shot at the first down, Coach Dana Holgorsen called on Lambert for the long 53-yard field goal. The rising sophomore, who has impressed many this spring, connected with the deep attempt, going up 30-17.

After another pair of defensive stops, highlighted by a big sack on Howard from backup punter Houstin Syvertson, the blue squad looked to pull off the comeback, down 30-27 with eight minutes remaining.

But the offense managed to sustain through the close competition. A 10-play, 75-yard drive led by a solid performance from Millard ended with a 2-yard dump-off pass to Elijah Wellman for the touchdown. With four minutes remaining, the offense extended its lead again to two possessions, up 37-27.

The offense would get one more drive in the contest, getting beyond midfield, but the clock would wind down, ending with an offensive victory.



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