KENT: Kent State’s defense gets to hang on to the coveted blue jerseys for another year thanks to a handful of key defensive stops at the end of Saturday’s blue-gold jersey scrimmage.
With the gold offense and blue defense tied 59-59 late in the afternoon action at Dix Stadium, the defense held the gold’s rotation of quarterbacks to just one more point en route to a 68-60 victory.
“The intensity level was by far the best it’s been since we’ve been here as a staff,” second-year coach Darrell Hazell said. “It’s amazing how well they competed back and forth and stayed in it … early the offense had [intensity], but the defense responded. Then the offense responded again on the last play.”
With the gold squad needing a touchdown in the final minute to tie the score, freshman quarterback Colin Reardon engineered a drive that almost resulted in a long touchdown pass capped by a tough catch by sophomore receiver Chris Humphrey. But the big-time play was nullified by a penalty.
Reardon aired one final ‘‘Hail Mary’’ pass toward the end zone, but junior defensive back Darius Polk leaped in front of intended receiver Matt Hurdle at the last second to knock the ball down and clinch the victory for the blue team.
However, more important than the win and who gets bragging rights for the winning “home” jerseys was the quarterback competition that served as the final test in determining who will be the Flashes’ starter in 12 days, when Towson comes to town for the season opener.
Since the start of camp earlier this month, Hazell’s main priority in a quarterback is one that will play smart and avoid turnovers.
Following an up-and-down season last year by then-junior Spencer Keith, two other quarterback candidates — junior college transfer David Fisher and freshman Colin Reardon — were brought in and have spent preseason camp looking to unseat three-year starter Keith.
Keith, who was 9-of-18 for 101 yards Saturday including an 11-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Sam Miller, has shown encouraging signs of improvement heading into his final season.
“I’ve been trying to focus on [not turning the ball over] in the first part of camp,” Keith said. “Not to jinx anything, but I haven’t thrown any interceptions yet.”
The opposite of the low-key, stay-in-the-pocket Keith is the energetic Fisher, who was 11-of-19 for 147 yards Saturday. Where Keith is more the steady manager of the game, Fisher uses his feet to scramble out of trouble and will take risks downfield – a tendency that can either pay off with a big play or, as has already happened this spring, get him in trouble.
“Early in camp, I forced it,” Fisher said. “I would do a lot of good things and then have that one bonehead play. It frustrated me, so I’ve told myself not to [take risks] and just execute the plays more often.”
Perhaps most impressive to date has been Reardon (Poland). If Keith and Fisher are considered to be on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of playing style, then the mature Reardon is a good mix of both, falling somewhere in the middle.
Saturday, he flashed a big arm in going 10-of-20 for 139 yards. He also showed his inexperience with two interceptions. Reardon was picked off by freshman safety Jordan Italiano (Canfield) and sophomore defensive back Dylan Farrington, who returned his interception 55 yards. In addition to the two interceptions, the defense recorded four sacks on the afternoon.
“I thought all three of the quarterbacks did a pretty good job,” said Hazell, who is expected to review the scrimmage film, meet with his staff and then announce the starter this afternoon. “They all seemed to move the team a little bit and they put us in the right plays. There was very little clock management problems, which was an issue last year.”
Another offensive highlight came from sophomore running back Trayion Durham (Cincinnati) when the 6-foot, 250-pounder sprang loose and ran 27 yards for a touchdown.
Another area of competition for the Flashes in camp has come in the kicking game. Saturday proved to be an easy day for senior incumbent Freddy Cortez, who was 2-for-2 on field-goal attempts, connecting on 19- and 23-yard attempts.
Meanwhile, freshman Anthony Melchiori (Aurora) missed his first two field-goal attempts and three overall in going 2–for-5, but made two impressive scores from 47 and 44 yards. He missed from 39, 35 and 47 yards.
“You can’t have enough good kickers on the team,” Hazell said. “You never want to see something happen to your first guy, but it’s nice to know you can put the back-up guy in if needed.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.