Defense rules Blue-Gold game as ETSU caps spring drills

By Ivan Sanders

STAR CORRESPONDENT
isanders@starhq.com

   On a beautiful Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium in Johnson City, Coach Paul Hamilton and staff got their final look at the 2003-04 version of the East Tennessee State Buccaneers, minus their incoming signees.
   While the defensive units sparkled on both teams, the offense managed only a total of two field goals from junior Jon Godfrey (Johnson City) for the Blue squad and a 6-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Justin Price (LaFollette) to Pulaski, Va. native Randy Grubb, a formidable target at 6-5 and a senior, as the Blue held off the Gold in a baseball score, 8-6.
   While the scoreboard was given the day off, there were many pleasant surprises for Hamilton as he was able to pinpoint some positive things he took out of the last scrimmage of the spring before his team returns to begin getting ready for the real thing as they kick off the 2003 season at Eastern Michigan on Thursday, Aug. 28 at 7 p.m.
   "I was really pleased with the way Justin Price played today as he played more steadily than the other two quarterbacks, who seemed to be a little jittery," said Hamilton. "I feel better about our depth in the offensive line as well because the Gold's offensive line was making some blocks out there today and that just lets us know we have a little more depth than what we thought."
The defensive units meanwhile made a statement and showed some signs of being a tough wall for any offense to break through, with some outstanding play coming from the line along with some fine plays made by the defensive backfield.
    One of the standout moments for the defense came when the Blue team's Travis Williams, a senior lineman from Bristol, sacked Price in the Gold's end zone for a safety to push the Blue's lead to 5-0 with 13:24 remaining in the first half, which was the difference in the ballgame after another Godfrey field goal from 36 yards out gave the Blue an 8-0 edge at the half.
   Other defensive standout performances came from sophomore Mike Cullen (Roswell, Ga.), who led both squads with nine tackles while junior defensive end Michael Mabe (Richlands, Va.) and sophomore Primus Glover (Springfield, Ga.) added seven stops each. Tony Haynes made a statement for quality playing time from his defensive end position as the sophomore from Franklin had three QB sacks on the day.
    After the halftime break, the Gold squad put together the best sustained drive of the scrimmage, with Price calmly connecting on 6 of 7 passes for 31 yards to guide his offense on a 14-play, 59-yard drive capped off by the score pass to Grubb to close the gap to 8-6.
The Gold looked to tie the game at 8-8, but Price's pass was incomplete to Grubb, who had a defensive player wrapped all around him, in the end zone to keep the score at 8-6.
   "It felt good to be looked at as much as I was today," said Grubb after the contest. "Our young quarterback did real well today and our unit (Gold) struggled early but came together down the stretch."
   Other notable performances were the punts that came off the leg of senior Aaron Bass (Clinton, Tn.) who was booming several punts over 50 yards without any pressure as part of the scrimmage. Scott Brumett was also another Buc that shined not only from his regular linebacking slot, but also from the tight end slot on the offensive side of the ball for the Blue team.
   "We were limited to what we could do today but it was good to see the touchdown from the offensive standpoint of things," said Brumett. "I hope to see some time on both sides of the ball, but we'll just wait and see what is best for the team."
   From the offensive side of the pigskin, senior tailback Gaven Varner (Summerville, S.C.) led all rushers with 10 carries for 47 yards. Andre Brooks (Greenville, S.C.), playing on the Gold team, had five carries for 21 yards.
   Sophomore Justin Cruze, a former South-Doyle High School standout, made two grabs for 34 yards while Matt Price made four receptions for 35 yards to go along with Brumett's one reception for 14 yards.
   "These players realize that we are coming off a season that we are not accustomed to as a East Tennessee State team," stated Hamilton. "There are a lot of questions that still need answers, but right now we feel pretty good about where we are at and feel confident that we will come back in August knowing what we have to accomplish."
   Added Hamilton: "A key for us is to maybe go out there and find a quarterback that has some college experience who has the knowledge and the mentality to go out there and win ball games. I am overall pleased with the things we've been able to do so far and I can foresee us working on getting the football more to the tight ends than what we have. We have three quality guys at that position and I think we need to utilize them.'
    There was a great turnout for the final scrimmage of the year as the Buc faithful will anxiously await the fall season to see if the Buccaneers can rebound from their 4-8 overall and 2-6 conference record in the 2002 season.
   With the positive vibes coming from Hamilton and the rest of the Bucs, 2003 should definitely be a turnaround season for the team.