MORGANTOWN — While not great, the weather held up just enough Saturday afternoon for WVU football to play its annual Gold-Blue game inside Milan Puskar Stadium.
The Gold team (offense) defeated the Blue team (defense) by a final score of 56-51 mixed between actual on-field production and one-on-one drills.
In 11-on-11 play, the offense scored four touchdowns and kicked a field goal, worth 30 total points. The Gold team added 26 points from competitions. The defense scored 31 points in one-the-field play through things like forcing three-and-outs and getting defensive stops. The Blue team added 20 points through competitions.
While not as uniform as a traditional practice, head coach Neal Brown said a spring game still holds value in being able to see how players perform under pressure.
“(Saturday) is about performing,” Brown said. “There is a difference when people are in the stands and when TV is there. There’s an extra element of pressure and you’ve got to be able to perform.”
The first bit of excitement in the game came on the first drive when the first-team offense broke out a trick play where wide receiver Preston Fox threw a 40-yard touchdown to quarterback Garrett Greene.
That was the first of three scoring drives Greene led. He also had a drive that ended in a missed 47-yard field goal. Greene, a junior, is in competition with redshirt-freshman Nicco Marchiol to be the Mountaineers’ starring quarterback and, statistically, outplayed his counterpart on Saturday.
Greene finished 8-of-11 passing for 156 yards and a touchdown. Marchiol went 6-of-12 for 58 yards and did not lead a scoring drive with the second-team offense. According to Brown, however, the competition was closer than in appeared.
“Both of them are runners and in this format, it’s hard for their full toolset to be shown,” Brown said. “I thought Nicco threw two really nice deep balls and our receivers didn’t play the ball very well.”
Either way, Brown is in no rush to name a starter.
“Regardless of what happened today or what happened through the first 15 (practices), this was going to be a deal that went winter, spring and into the fall camp and summer before we figure it out,” he said.
Also standing out Saturday were two new pass-catchers for the Mountaineers in receiver Devin Carter and tight end Kole Taylor.
Carter, an NC State transfer, led the team with three receptions for 77 yards, including a 54-yard completion from Greene. Fellow receiver Cortez Braham also caught a big play from Greene, a 40-yard catch and run that resulted in the second touchdown of the day.
“Devin has been our leading guy this spring in each of the practices and Cortez is a guy who is really growing and has the potential to be a starter for sure,” Brown said.
Taylor, a transfer from LSU, made three receptions for 36 yards, including a 20-yard one-handed catch on third down. Taylor said this spring has been about building the coaches’ trust in him to be able to make plays like that.
“The catch I had in the spring game today was pretty much a first read. The first practice, they’re probably not calling that play,” Taylor said. “Throughout spring every day I built trust with coaches and on third down they called a play to get the ball in my hands.”
Those were the biggest pass plays of the game, as WVU’s secondary had a good showing on balls thrown down the field.
Kent State transfer Montre Miller in particular had a good day, breaking up two deep passes thrown to Braham and deflecting a slant on another throw.
“He defended to go balls, and that’s something that hurt us a year ago,” Brown said. “That was definitely something positive. We brought him in to play and today was one of his better days, I was encouraged.”
Middle linebacker Lee Kpogba also impressed, finishing with four tackles and a sack.
“I thought Lee Kpogba really showed,” Brown said. “I thought he was physical in the run game early and probably would have had two sacks if the quarterbacks were live.”
The defense had four sacks in total with the others coming from defensive end Aric Burton, tackle Mike Lockhart and linebacker Ben Cutter.
Giving up one of those sacks was Jimmy Bell Jr., the starting center for the WVU men’s basketball this season who is giving football a try this spring. He also was whistled for holding, the only penalty called in the game. Brown said he will talk with Bell and men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins next week about Bell’s future on the gridiron.
On the ground, sophomore CJ Donaldson made his return to competition after suffering a season-ending injury last year. He ran for 36 yards and a touchdown and said he wasn’t hesitant at all about returning to live play.
“You can’t really think about it like that,” he said. “You’ve got to enjoy it. I was remembering when I first got hurt that I was kind of taking it for granted, just playing this sport…Throughout that process it just made me hungry, it made me want to play more each and every day.”
Tony Mathis ran for 10 yards, Jaylen Anderson had 20 and Justing Johnson finished with 16 as they split duties. Stealing the show, however, was freshman Jahiem White, who broke off a 53-yard touchdown run late in the scrimmage and finished with a team-high 91 rushing yards.
“We’re going to have a spot for all of those guys,” Brown said. “CJ had some nice runs, I thought Tony saw it really well today. Justin and Jaylen both had some nice yardage after contact and then Jahiem had the big run.”
“He’s just hungry, he wants to get out there on the field and be ready to play,” Donaldson said of White. “As the season goes on, he’s going to put on some muscle, build confidence to where he’s going to play his game and I think he’s going to be a great addition to this team.”
The next time WVU plays live football in front of a crowd will be on Sept. 2 in State College, Pa. as the Mountaineers open their 2023 season against Penn State.
As always, WVU gave out five awards during halftime of the Gold-Blue game, four Iron Mountaineer awards for the most outstanding performers in the strength and conditioning program and the Tommy Nickolich Memorial Award, given to the team’s most distinguished walk-on.
Mathis, offensive lineman Doug Nester, linebacker Jared Barlett and safety Marcis Floyd won the Iron Mountaineer Awards and wide receiver CJ Cole of Washington, Pa. received the Nickolich award.
“I was just really proud, especially to hear where you’re from to be able to put on for them,” Cole said. “I take extreme pride in that.”
“He is someone who is very, very respected on our football team,” Brown said of Cole. “There’s no doubt that CJ is one of the best people on our team and he’s also one of the hardest workers. He was a factor for us last year on special teams.”
Tommy Nickolich was a walk-on at WVU from 1979-82 and died of cancer in 1983.
“He’s from Fairmont and I’m from Washington so I feel like those two cities are somewhat alike in their mentality,” Cole said. “To have my name in the same sentence as his makes me proud.”