(Rick Hickman/American Press)
Last Modified: Sunday, August 17, 2014 1:19 PM
It took all of two plays at McNeese State’s first preseason scrimmage for quarterback Daniel Sams to demonstrate why he’s kind of a big deal.
First play, a 51-yard bullet to tight end R.J. Walters. Second play, a 24-yard touchdown run with multiple defenders grabbing air.
“Wow, man. He’s a sight,” said running back Derrick Milton. “That’s all I can say. Yeah, he can use his legs. But he’s going to throw the rock as well. He’s got a cannon. So I’ve got nothing but great compliments to say about that guy.”
Sure, it was the No. 2 defense on the field. But none of the several hundred fans in attendance seemed to mind. This is what they had come to see.
“I like this,” Sams said. “Coming from Kansas State, our practices and scrimmages were not open to the public. So it’s good we can get a fan base out here. I can feel the family atmosphere. The crowd got loud for everything, and it wasn’t even that big of a crowd. So that was good to see.”
The bar for Sams to do something special on his first possession was set by the guy he’s trying to either share or take time from, Tyler Bolfing.
Facing the No.1 defense, the junior also needed only two plays to get the Cowboys into the end zone from 75 yards out, hitting Jereon McGilvery on a 59-yard fly before Dylan Long rumbled into the end zone from 16 yards out — or so it seemed.
Being the first scrimmage, there were also some first scrimmage mistakes, including a hold at the goal line that wiped out Long’s run.
The Cowboys were able to overcome that miscue five plays later when Long scored from 3 yards out. But the key play was a perfect 9-yard throw-and-catch from Bolfing to David Bush on third-and-8.
“Offensively we made some really good plays. And obviously some plays we kind of have to correct,” said head coach Matt Viator. “And same defensively. Both sides had their share of plays and both sides have their share of mistakes we have to correct. But all in all I think we probably showed more speed than we normally have in the first scrimmage, and I’m excited about that.”
Four quarterbacks saw playing time against the No. 1 defense, and all would find the end zone.
Will Briscoe got in on the action with an 18-yard pass to freshman Kent Shelby — guilty party in the aforementioned holding penalty. Shelby went up high against double coverage and brought Briscoe’s dart down in the back corner of the end zone.
Freshman Grant Ashcraft got his shot against the ones in McNeese’s red-zone offense, scrambling for a 12-yard touchdown one play after connecting with Ernest Celestie for an 8-yard gain.
While each quarterback had his moment, no one was perfect. Bolfing was the only one to complete better than 50 percent of his passes, going 5 of 8 for 138 yards.
Sams was 4 of 8 for 81 yards and an interception, getting picked off by D.J. Gatlin when pocket pressure from both defensive ends forced a hurried, wobbly throw.
Sams was McNeese’s second-leading rusher, gaining 67 yards on eight attempts.
A new face emerged as the Cowboys’ leading rusher with Kelvin Bennett and Nate Holmes limited to a combined five carries for health reasons.
True freshman Ryan Ross looked capable of being a guy the Cowboys can turn to in late blowouts and potentially much more, running for 76 yards and a score on 12 carries primarily against the No. 2 and 3 defenses.
“We’ve been excited (about Ross),” Viator said. “Everybody’s talking about the other four guys. We felt like he had a lot of talent, but he was a spread guy (in high school), so we weren’t really sure how he was going to translate to here. But he’s 208 pounds. He’s a load. He’s a really good player.