Blue Wins Spring Game

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Maurice Covington and the Blue team won the Spring Game. (All photos by Rachel Zahumensky)

It certainly was not the most beautiful day to play football, but that did not prevent Virginia from holding its Spring Game and Football Festival on Saturday afternoon at Scott Stadium. As the rain poured down on a sparse crowd, the Blue team defeated the White team 7-0 in a game in which the offensive play was as sloppy as the weather.

“Not dramatically, but we separated the units to create certain match-ups that we wanted to take a look at,” Virginia coach Al Groh said. “It’s really not an event where I would try to form any evaluation of the scheme or the team as much as just to see how different individuals might react to whatever circumstances might come up. Particularly some younger players who might be out there, trying to figure out who might be ready for prime time and who’s not, in terms of their reaction to things.”

Junior signal caller Scott Deke completed 13 of 22 passes for the Blue team, including a 24-yard strike to Simon Manka in the second quarter. He finished with 129 passing yards and was sacked four times. Verica, a redshirt freshman, completed 9 of 21 passes for 94 yards and threw one interception. He was sacked twice.

Groh said neither QB has the inside track to the No. 2 spot behind Jameel Sewell .

“I’ve assessed the play of the quarterbacks throughout, just how many good plays they had,” Groh said. “I thought each one of them had their moments today where they had some of those good plays, the first time out there in this kind of competitive situation. I’m sure there are plays that each one of them would like to have back but I thought there were enough positives. Was it good enough to get done what we needed to get done today? No, but it was enough that there were certainly some positive plays.”

In the fourth quarter, redshirt freshman Patch Duda replaced Verica and completed 2 of 4 pass attempts.

A scoreless first quarter of play ended on a sack of Verica by redshirt freshmen John Bivens . Bivens and cornerback Mike Parker were the two redshirt freshmen who impressed Groh the most.

“Those are two that look like they might be ready for prime time,” Groh said.

The highlight reel play of the day came early in the second quarter when sophomore cornerback Vic Hall picked off a Verica pass after juggling it three or four times. He lost five yards while trying to return it.

“True to his resume, [Vic] has a habit of making plays,” Groh said. “He shows up on the ball and he’s really got a good sense of the game and how things are unfolding and he put himself in a real good position [for the interception].”

Groh added that there is no significant separation between Hall, Mike Brown, and Chris Cook at cornerback.

Mikell Simpson tries to avoid the grasp of Jermaine Dias .

The only scoring play of the day was set up by Hall’s interception and it occurred midway through the second quarter. After dropping a pass on the previous play, Simon Manka beat junior walk-on cornerback Brandon Jarvis on a “shake” route and caught the pass from Deke right before crossing into the end zone.

“Not for a second did I think he wasn’t going to catch it,” Deke said. “He ran a great route and it was a touchdown. Simon is a really fast guy who runs great routes. Sometimes I think he’s surprised by how open he gets.”

The leading rusher of the day was redshirt freshman Raynard Horne with 39 yards. Junior Cedric Peerman recorded 37 yards, 30 of which came on one play in which he broke free down the left sideline in the third quarter. Redshirt freshman Keith Payne rushed for 29 yards.

“I thought Payne had his moments but what he has to do is put some definition into his game, landmarks on runs, tempo on the screens,” Groh said. “His talent is obviously pretty high end but his game is still a little bit school yard.”

Payne expressed a similar measured view when asked to assess his play.

“I guess I did fair,” he said. “I thought I could do a lot better. But it was pretty much the first game I’ve had since high school so it’s pretty much just getting back into the feel of football.”

The longest reception of the day occurred when redshirt freshman tight end Joe Torchia hauled in a 28-yard pass from Deke towards the end of the third quarter. Torchia finished with 37 yards on four catches. Junior receiver Cary Koch was the leading receiver with 38 yards on 2 catches, including a 26-yarder. Senior tight end Jonathan Stupar notched 35 receiving yards on three catches.

One area that Groh was clearly displeased with was the kicking game. Senior Noah Greenbaum missed a 44-yard attempt wide right in the second quarter.

“I thought the kicking left a little bit to be desired,” Groh said. “I’d say where still a little bit unsettled as to what we want to do on Sept. 1. We have another candidate [Chris Hinkebein ] who will be here to compete on Aug. 5, and we’ll let the competition begin [then].”

Senior Ryan Weigand took four punts, averaging 43 yards. Senior Chris Gould took two punts, averaging 33 yards, while junior John Thornton took one that went 36 yards. No punt returns were permitted and there were no full rushes at the punters.

Senior tight end Tom Santi was held out for precautionary reasons due to a minor elbow injury. Groh said that Peerman and senior defensive end Chris Long saw limited playing time in the game due to minor bumps and bruises.

Cedric Peerman is tackled by Aaron Clark and Antonio Appleby .

Rock Weir Winners. Before the game, junior left tackle Eugene Monroe and junior inside linebacker Antonio Appleby were honored as the 2007 recipients of the Rock Weir Award, which is given to the most improved players during spring drills.

“Antonio has really been on his game all spring long,” Groh said. “[And] Eugene has found himself in two really difficult seasons. We really have seen now for the first time a glimpse of some of the things that have been expected of him, because he has a little background and a little sense of what he’s doing combined with his leg being well.”

It was also announced that this year’s team captains will be Long, Santi, and junior left guard Branden Albert . This will be Long’s second year as a team captain.

“[On offense] Tom and Branden were obviously out in front on that,” Groh said. “Defensively, Chris Long , as a repeat captain, got a tremendous amount of votes. We had four players get between nine and 12 votes on defense, which seems to be indicative that there is a good spread of leadership throughout the defense, a lot of voices that the players are listening to.”

With three and a half months remaining before the start of summer practice, Groh is happy with many of the things he saw during the spring but also has a long list of areas that need improvement.

“We’ve gotten better at a lot of things, some of which are observable only to coaches,” Groh said. “We made a lot of progress in a lot of areas but we’ve also got concerns in every area that we still have to fix. We have basically 45 practices between the start of spring practice and the first game and we’ve had 15, so we’re just 1/3 of the way along. We still have things we need to address come the first day of practice in August.”

Yards After The Catch. Former Hoos Wali Lundy, Aaron Brooks, Matt Schaub, Jim Dombrowski, Wali Rainer, and Antoine Womack were all in attendance on Saturday and honored on the field during the second half. …During halftime, the Virginia men’s basketball team was recognized on the field.

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