With the offense trailing by one point on the final drive of the Cherry & White Game on Saturday, one had to wonder if coach Bobby Wallace could avoid thinking, ‘What if?’
What if this season is shades of those past, when missed extra points or botched late field goal attempts cost the football team wins?
No, Wallace promised. This season will be different.
“Ryan Lux and [Johnny] Wilaikul won’t miss any like that next season,” Wallace said of the Owls’ leading candidates at placekicker. “They’re good guys who still need a lot of work to be in form, but they’ll get there.”
The offensive unit, wearing white jerseys, overcame a missed extra point attempt in the first half to beat the defensive unit, wearing cherry jerseys, 29-24, on Cherry & White Day at Ambler Sports Complex.
Along with the kicking game, the Owls had a few other question-mark positions going into the scrimmage. With the departure of quarterback Walter Washington and linebacker Rian Wallace, both of whom entered the NFL Draft, the Owls might have experienced a drop in productivity at those positions.
But fifth-year senior quarterback Mike McGann had an impressive showing, and linebackers Ryan Gore and Rick Costa finished up impressive spring camps Saturday.
McGann, who was the backup behind Washington last season, completed 16 of 25 attempts for 175 yards. He also threw an interception and fumbled three snaps, with two coming on the same set of downs. Wallace said McGann’s ability to eliminate costly mistakes would determine the success of the offense.
“He made one today when he shouldn’t have thrown that ball,” Wallace said of the interception. “He’s got to be mature enough to throw that ball out of bounds.”
With a mobile quarterback like Washington, the Owls were accustomed to running the option or draw play last season. They plan to do the same with the less fleet-footed McGann under center.
The linebacker corps performed exceptionally without Rian Wallace, the departed first-team All-Big East pick. Gore and redshirt freshman Costa stopped the running game in the middle of the field. Costa, a touted recruit out of Moorestown, N.J., said the linebackers should be able to stop rushers who get through the defensive line this season.
“Ryan and I could have really good seasons [this] year, especially with the guys in front of us,” Costa said. “They’re going to make our jobs look easy.”
In limited action, the kicking team wavered. Trailing 12-0, Lux connected on a 42-yard attempt from the left hash to score the White team’s first points. On the ensuing drive, sophomore Danny Murphy’s attempt from 49 yards was just shy of the crossbar. The Cherry team headed into halftime with a 16-9 lead after Wilaikul missed an extra point attempt.
Senior wide receiver Mike Holley, who is fighting for the No. 1 spot as X-wideout, caught three passes for 40 yards. Junior Jamel Harris was the favorite target, hauling in eight receptions for 95 yards and a touchdown.
At halftime, Wallace handed out several spring practice awards. Those honored as the most improved players were freshmen center Alex Derenthal and halfback Leyon Azubuike on offense, and juniors defensive lineman Neil Dickson and cornerback David Reese on defense.
Wallace named senior defensive tackle Antwon Burton the most spirited and enthusiastic player of the spring. Burton, who missed all of last season with an ankle injury, said he couldn’t be happier with the turn of events from last year to now.
“I felt pretty good coming back this year,” Burton said. “It was great playing with my fellow defensive linemen [Saturday]. I got an award, and overall I just felt stronger, felt like I got my weight down.”
DECISION OF CAUTION
Senior cornerback Ray Lamb, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during last year’s Cherry & White Game, sat out this year’s contest. He had the same knee arthroscopically scoped two weeks ago. Wallace said Lamb would be ready for the season-opener at Arizona State on Sept. 1.
The points system used Saturday was anything but standard procedure. Offensive scoring was traditional, but the defensive unit was credited points based on their defensive and special teams stops. Halting a possession on downs earned two points, forcing a turnover was worth six points, a missed field goal was worth three points and a missed extra point attempt was worth one point.
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sports editor Benjamin Watanabe contributed to this report.