The Gold Team defeated the White Team by a score of 20-7 on Saturday in Wyoming's Annual Spring Game to bring to a close a month-long period of spring drills for the Wyoming Cowboy Football program.
Head coach Dave Christensen addressed the media after Saturday's Spring Game that lasted for about one hour and twenty minutes and included 90 plays.
Approximately 3,000 people were in attendance in War Memorial Stadium and the Wildcatter Stadium Club & Suites, where a reception was held for former Wyoming Football Alumni prior to and during the game.
"I think this is the most competitive football team we've had since I've been here," said Christensen. "I think you saw that today with some great hits out there. I really noticed Mark Nzeocha today. I'm really pleased with his progress. There aren't a lot of 6-4, 230-pound safeties that can move like he can. He's the one guy who really stood out to me. A lot of great performances though. We'll evaluate the film -- it's been a great spring. We'll need to get some guys ready who are coming in the fall, but overall I'm very pleased."
Christensen was also pleased with the progression of a number of players.
"There was a lot of individual improvement across the board on both sides of the ball, and that is probably more important than anything in the spring," said Christensen. "We've got a good punter, although he (Tim Gleeson) struggled a little bit today for the first time in 15 spring practices, but he'll bounce back from that. I know we've got a good kicker (Daniel Sullivan). I think we're headed in the right direction."
After each team was forced to punt on their first possessions of the game, the Gold Team went on a nine-play, 79-yard drive that included a personal foul penalty on the White Team.
The drive resulted in a 21-yard field goal by sophomore place-kicker Daniel Sullivan late in the first quarter to give the Gold Team a 6-0 lead.
Late in the second quarter, sophomore cornerback Darrenn White of the Gold Team intercepted junior quarterback Colby Kirkegaard and returned the interception 40 yards to the White Team's 41-yard line.
Three plays later, and with time running out in the half, Sullivan attempted a 41-yard field goal, but he pulled the kick wide left and the first half ended with the Gold leading 6-0.
Kirkegaard played every snap of the game at quarterback for both the Gold and White teams on Saturday due to returning starter Brett Smith being held out of contact drills this spring recovering from offseason surgery. Kirkegaard completed 28 of 47 passes (.595) on the day for 324 yards and threw two TDs and two interceptions.
"Nobody got more reps this spring than Colby (Kirkegaard)," said Christensen. "He made progress throughout spring, and it was good for him. He took every rep today for both teams. He's been doing that a lot in practice."
After the White Team punted on their first possession of the second half, Kirkegaard led Gold on a four-play, 65-yard drive and connected on his first TD pass of the game, hitting sophomore wide receiver Dominic Rufran on the longest play of the day -- a 37-yard strike over the middle. Sullivan added the extra point and Gold had built its lead to 13-0.
Rufran led the way for the Gold team on Saturday, with six receptions for 112 yards and one touchdown reception.
"Dom (Rufran) had a real good scrimmage today," said Christensen. "It was probably his best one of the spring. Dom's got big-play potential. He's got a lot of experience. He really needs to take his game to another level, and he's working really hard on doing that. You saw today that he has some speed and elusiveness, so it was good to see him have a big play. Trey Norman also made a big play on a touchdown, which was exciting. The receiving position is one that is young, and we're missing some guys this spring but even though we're young, guys are improving there."
The leading rushers on Saturday were sophomore running back Kody Sutton, with 41 yards on eight carries, and junior running back Brandon Miller, who had 10 carries for 32 yards.
The White Team punted on its next possession, but the White defense created its one turnover of the day when senior linebacker Korey Jones forced a fumble by redshirt freshman running back Zaquoya Parham on the first play of the series.
Junior cornerback Marqueston Huff recovered the fumble at the Gold 49-yard line. Three plays later, Kirkegaard threw his second touchdown pass of the game -- this time connecting with sophomore receiver Trey Norman of the White Team on a 33-yard TD strike.
Sophomore place-kicker Stuart Williams successfully knocked through the extra point, and the White squad was on the scoreboard for the first time, trailing by only a 13-7 margin.
The White defense stopped a drive by the Gold offense on its first possession of the fourth quarter, when Sullivan pushed a 45-yard, field-goal attempt wide right, and the White offense took over at its own 28-yard line down by only six points.
On the first play from scrimmage, senior free safety Kenny Browder intercepted Kirkegaard and returned the interception 34 yards for the touchdown, Sullivan added the point-after touchdown for a 20-7 Gold lead. The White squad had the ball twice more but was unable to score, and the final score was Gold 20, White 7.
With all three turnovers on the day -- two interceptions by the Gold Team and one fumble recovery by the White Team -- involving defensive backs, Christensen was asked to comment on the big plays made by his secondary.
"We had a couple picks and another big play on a fumble," said Christensen. "We're starting to develop some depth there. I know we've got guys who are physical, and that is so, so key. They (the secondary) know how to find the ball."
In addition to Huff's fumble recovery for the White Team that led to a touchdown on the ensuing drive, he also had six tackles. Three other defensive backs had five tackles each -- senior safety Luke Anderson and sophomore cornerback Blair Burns, both for the White squad, and sophomore cornerback DeAndre Jones for the Gold squad.
Defenders with four tackles each included: senior linebacker Korey Jones for the White Team; redshirt freshman Zack Berg had four tackles for Gold to go with 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.0 sack; Nzeocha, Browder, Andrew Meredith and Alex Borgs each had four tackles for the Gold Team.
Leading all tacklers was junior linebacker J.J. Quinlan, who had 11 tackles, one pass breakup and a half tackle for a loss for the White squad.
Christensen announced after the game, that walk-ons Quinlan and sophomore wide receiver/quarterback Josh Smith had both been awarded scholarships beginning next fall.
At halftime, player awards were presented to the most improved players at each position during 2012 spring drills. This year's most improved players were:
Specialist -- Daniel Sullivan, sophomore
O-Lineman -- Daniel Fleischman, sophomore
Receiver -- Robert Herron, junior
Offensive Back -- Colby Kirkegaard, junior
D-Lineman -- Kurt Taufa'asau, senior
Linebacker -- Zack Berg, redshirt freshman
Defensive Back -- Mark Nzeocha, sophomore
Awards were also presented for those players who displayed extra effort during spring practice. Those awards, called "Earn Your Spurs Awards", were presented to two offensive players and two defensive players.
The two offensive honorees were: quarterbacks Colby Kirkegaard and Josh Smith. The two defensive awards were presented to: linebacker Zack Berg and safety Mark Nzeocha.
With the conclusion of spring drills, Christensen was asked what his football program would focus on next.
"The kids have a couple weeks of school left, and the emphasis is definitely finishing the year strong academically," said the fourth-year head coach of the Cowboys. "After these next two weeks, our players are a semester closer to graduation, so that is the biggest emphasis right now."
Christensen also added the Cowboys will continue with workouts until the team leaves for summer break.
"The team will continue to work out some in the weight room and conditioning, but then they'll get about three weeks off at the end of the semester," said Christensen. "Some of the kids are joining me on a trip to Haiti the first of those three weeks. The veterans will come back around May 30 and start training with Coach (Trent) Greener for the summer. They get some time off around the 4th (of July) and then about a week at the end of the summer before reporting back for fall camp early in August."
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