The Golden Rams played the annual Purple vs. Gold spring game at Farrell Stadium, with the Gold team edging out the Purple squad 19-14 on Friday, April 18. The final score however is meaningless because these games are more about tradition than on the field competition.
It is difficult to gauge the progress made by this team judging by Friday’s glorified scrimmage alone, especially considering the injuries that have befallen this team on both sides of the ball. Receivers Mike Washington (separated shoulder) and Steve Miller (hamstring) were held out for precautionary reasons, as were running back Lee Hopkins (shoulder) and defensive back Tyler Downes (hernia). Additionally, and perhaps most troubling to the development of this team, starting quarterback Joe Wright has yet to step foot on the practice field since tearing his ACL in the annual get together at Delaware a year ago.
Yet, for these Golden Rams, a squad much younger than their predecessors who climbed the PSAC East’s mountain top as division champions in 2007, Friday night was the first step towards once again climbing towards that summit.
If you squinted hard enough on the first play of the game when Jared Jorgenson hit William Gardner streaking down the sidelines for a 38 yard gain, you could almost envision the Bill Zwaan Jr. to Mike Washington connection that was so dynamic the last two seasons. Plus, the front seven defensively looked about as solid in this game as any under coach Bill Zwaan.
Then there were the running backs.
Playing behind offensive lines that featured senior center Kennis Jones as the only returnee from a year ago, Kevin Garland and D’Andre Webb combined for 174 yards and a touchdown. Both looked quick off the first step and showed a burst through the offensive line Friday that should lead to big gains in the fall.
The duo look to be the centerpieces of a running back by committee, along with Hopkins, that will be unveiled when the Golden Rams take the field Aug. 30 at California (PA).
“I love it,” Garland said of the running back by committee situation. “I love my teammates, D’Andre, everybody, we all can do it, we know the plays and there’s always competition but it’s nothing big.”
Of course these backs will only run as far as the offensive line allows them. With as much youth as comprises this unit, that could prove to be challenging, but Zwaan likes what he saw Friday.
“The offensive line did a nice job getting them holes in the second half,” Zwaan said. “I know my running backs have talent, but that’s my biggest thing, we’ll start three freshmen on the offensive line and as long as they keep getting better every single day, and they’ve done that up until tonight and from that standpoint, that’s what I’ve really liked to see.”
There are no bones about it though, this team cannot be expected, no matter how much talent resides in the receiving corps and the backfield to repeat the record setting pace of a year ago. Not against an improved division and question marks at the quarterback and offensive line positions.
The Golden Rams may very well light up the scoreboard on occasion, but this team undoubtedly will depend on it’s defense in 2008.
Linebackers Mike Dell and Sam Scott continued to show signs of improvement, by getting in the quarterback’s face on several occasions in the scrimmage, but the secondary stole the show.
Josh Ford, Will Davis and Jarret Eaton each hauled in interceptions for the purple team. Eaton looked especially solid in pass coverage, an area that hurt the Golden Rams a year ago.
Corey Rhood though, stole the show with several jarring hits on receivers along the sidelines and had five tackles as well.
There is still work to be done in this department as several pass interference calls led to big gains by the offenses. Nevertheless, if West Chester can eliminate some of the lapses of a year ago, the road back to the top of the division will be easier to trek.
“I know it makes it a lot easier knowing that you’ve got solid guys back there,” Dell said of playing linebacker in front of the current group of defensive backs. “And I think Jarett Eaton has a lot of potential, he’s running track now and when he can be with us full time in the fall it’s going to work out well.”
Now that the spring practice session ceremoneously has come to a close, focus now turns to the season opener at California. The final score in week one’s showdown with the Vulcans holds just a bit more weight then that of Friday’s showdown.
And by then, well we all should have a better feel for what this team is and could become over the stretch of a season.
Matt Lombardo is a third-year student majoring in communication studies with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at ML606516@wcupa.edu
He hosts a weekly sports talk radio show Saturday’s from noon-2pm on 91.7 FM WCUR and is simulcast worldwide online at www.wcur.fm