Saturday’s 100-play intrasquad scrimmage at Plaster Field had a little bit of everything. Long pass completions, solid running, great defense, consistency from the veterans, and some amazing freshman efforts were all on display in the two-hour session.
The scrimmage brought to a close the second week of fall camp and the second of four two-a-day practices. The Bears also had a 90-minute morning practice that focused heavily on special teams work.
On Saturday night, the freshmen stole the show. Running backs Ryan Heaston (Cordova, Tenn.) and Maddy Johnson (Webb City) both turned heads with solid play. Heaston rushed 12 times for 75 yards, including a 42-yard run from scrimmage on his first touch of the night. He also had five receptions for 23 yards. Johnson had three pass receptions for 19 yards and gathered a team-high 14 carries for 15 total yards, including a key fourth-and-one touchdown run with the first team.
Freshman QB Kierra Harris (Texarkana, Ark.) was 7-for-11 through the air for 111 yards, including a sensational 52-yard touchdown strike to fellow freshman Eric Christophel (Nixa, Mo.). Harris also had 10 carries for 52 yards at QB with four touches of nine yards or more.
Redshirt freshman Julian Burton (Cordova, Tenn.) matched Heaston with a team-high five catches and led the Bears with 101 receiving yards. He had grabs of 69 and 25 yards and narrowly missed a touchdown.
Fellow freshman Bernard Thomas (Blue Springs, Mo.) had the game’s only interception, taking a Mitchell Jenkins pass back 52 yards late in the night.
“I thought our young players played really well on both sides of the ball,” Head coach Terry Allen said. “I was pleased with Kierra Harris and Ryan Heaston. Bernard Thomas had an interception. It was a really good first scrimmage, and from a learning curve standpoint, we know the things we need to start working on.”
Starters Cadarrius Dotson (WR, Memphis, Tenn.) and Chris Douglas (RB, Lawrenceville, Ga.) sat out to nurse nagging injuries, but regular Stephen Johnston (Mansfield, Texas) had four carries for 25 yards, and all-conference WR Jermaine Saffold (Grandview, Mo.) was one of nine receivers to collect a reception, with one grab for 12 yards.
Offensive coordinator Rob Christophel was modestly proud of his son’s 52-yard touchdown reception, but said Eric’s catch was one of example of the athleticism in this year’s freshman class.
“I like our speed on offense,” Christophel said. “Our receivers are all working hard and we’re seeing some really good things from our young guys.”
Christophel also said that even though there is no QB controversy in camp this fall, the battle for the No. 2 spot got a shot in the arm tonight with Harris’ solid effort.
“Mitch (Jenkins) is showing good poise and it’s easy to forget he’s just a redshirt freshman who’s still learning,” Christophel said. ” He has a good attitude and is working hard. I’m pleased with Harris tonight, especially being a true freshman. There is a learning curve, but he is really picking up our offense very quickly.”
“Right now there is a good battle between Kierra and Mitch for that No. 2 spot.”
Christophel said that starter Trevor Wooden was impressive too, throwing for 110 yards on just 9 completions, but he will continue to develop at a key spot in the offensive scheme.
“Trevor is a steadying force, and did some great things tonight,” Christophel explained. “He continues to get better, and getting a lot of snaps tonight will help us get there.”
On the defensive side, D.J. Vokolek’s unit broke up eight passes, got an interception from cornerback Thomas, got a fumble recovery from Darius Blow (OLB, Grandview, Mo.), and collected six sacks, including two from Martin Montgomery (DE, Pine Bluff, Ark.)