(Courtesy: Con Marshall)
Chadron State’s spring football game Saturday was like none other.
First of all, it had to be played on the practice field, since the turf on Elliott Field has been removed, soon to be replaced by artificial surface. Although some portable bleachers were available, it also meant most of the couple hundred hardy fans in attendance watched while standing along the sidelines.
Then, characteristic of the weather all spring, it was chilly, it rained, then it snowed and sometimes did both. Parkas, hoodies and umbrellas were all in style, particularly in the first half.
But the game went on and it was entertaining and well-played. Coach Jay Long called it “a fun day with a great atmosphere, lots of enthusiasm and no injuries. I’m a happy coach.”
Led by junior tailback Priest Jennings, some of the explosiveness that many believe will be a trademark of the Eagles this fall was displayed.
Jennings, who missed most of last season after being injured on his first carry in the opening game, scored all three of the game’s touchdowns on runs of about 15, 60 and 65 yards. One came in each of the first three periods.
The first followed pair of 25-yard plays—a run by another speedy tailback, Stevann Brown, and a pass from junior quarterback TD Stein to tight end Colt Foster. A couple of plays later, Jennings burst through the line and into the end zone.
It was a preview of coming attractions. In both the second and third quarters, Jennings took handoffs, made defenders miss as he kept churning in heavy traffic and soon broke free, widening the margin between him and the defenders until he was gone.
It was his day, to be sure.
But, while employing a homegrown system that allows the defense to also “score” even if it never reaches the end zone, the defense won the game 40-36, Long and CSC Director of Sports Information Kaleb Center calculated afterwards.
The defense got most of its points by stopping the offense on “three-and-out” situations (six of them) and also faring well in a variety of individual matchups against offensive players between quarters.
The offense certainly didn’t give the game away. Despite the slippery pigskin, there were no fumbles and only one interception, a pick by redshirt freshman Jaxon King just before the ball hit the ground. It also was remarkable that the officiating crew called only three penalties.
A majority of the Eagles’ probable starters this fall saw limited action. Starting quarterback Dalton Holst and Stein, who missed nearly all of last season because of an injury, played just one series apiece. That meant redshirt freshmen Karson Avila and Tyler Hyland, called the signals at least 90 percent of the game. They didn’t complete a high percentage of their passes, but neither did they make costly mistakes.
“We generally use the spring game to give the guys who redshirted last fall and the ones who haven’t played much a chance to see what it’s like to be on the field for most of a game,” Long said. “We know what the veterans can do, but we need to find out as much as we can about the young players and give them the best experience possible.”
The Eagles will return nine starters on offense this fall, but are missing five of the six players who had most of the playing time in the defensive line and four of the six primary members of the secondary.
“A lot of young guys showed this spring that we’ll be OK,” Lewis said. “We kept getting better all the time. Some of them really played well.”