The first score of the afternoon was an interception return by Jesse Mack. The second was a fumble recovery by Taylor Hilgers that followed a mishandled punt. The third was a field goal by Matthew McCrane.
It was that kind of day at Kansas State’s spring football game, which was played in front of 17,080 at Sporting Park while Snyder Family Stadium undergoes construction. The Wildcats appeared sharp on defense and satisfactory on special teams, but, unlike most scrimmages in which one team is made up of starters and the other features backups, they had room to grow on offense.
Football in a soccer stadium yielded unusual results. Go figure.
“When the fans leave early that tells you we are not very good,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said, before adding he wanted to leave early with them. “Real early.”
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What displeased him the most?
“A little bit of everything,” he said. “We turned the ball over, got penalized and didn’t run it well, obviously with the interceptions we had, we didn’t throw it well.”
The biggest issue on offense was quarterback. Jesse Ertz started for the Purple Team, made up of starters, and completed 9 of 15 passes for 159 yards, a touchdown and a first-quarter interception that resulted in a touchdown for the White Team, composed of backups. The sophomore inched ahead of junior Joe Hubener and freshman Alex Delton during spring practices, and he showed good mobility and kept plays alive with his feet Saturday. But he did little with his arm.
Throwing a pick six on his first attempt will haunt him for a while.
“It was definitely not the plan,” Ertz said. “But at the same time there is nothing I could do about. I just tried to put it behind me and thought let’s make some big plays and forget about it.”
Hubener split snaps with him, completing 7 of 19 passes for 67 yards and an interception. Throughout the spring, Hubener has said the starting job was his to lose after serving as Jake Waters’ backup last season. But the competition appears much closer than that.
Delton is also in the mix, following a solid debut in which he showed good speed on running plays and led the Purple Team on a touchdown drive. Snyder singled out Delton as a bright spot. This race won’t end anytime soon.
“Things are way muddier now, for sure,” Hubener said of the quarterback competition. “Jesse had a very good spring and he is a tough competitor. I have just got to keep playing my game and let that speak for itself.”
Things weren’t all bad for Kansas State’s offense, which found a rhythm as the day went on and received quality contributions from Deante Burton, who had four catches for 107 yards. Charles Jones and Winston Dimel both ran for a pair of touchdowns. Justin Silmon also made some nice contributions.
After some early struggles, the Purple Team went on to win 55-24. The score was flipped at halftime with the purple on top 24-13, meaning it truly outscored the White Team 66-13.
One player stood out for both sides, Dominique Heath. The redshirt freshman receiver served as K-State’s primary return man, and was arguably the Wildcats’ top performer. He piled up 350 return yards and had a touchdown on a 75-yard sprint.
In past spring games, Snyder has chosen not to allow returns, but he switched formats in order to evaluate possible replacements for former returner Tyler Lockett.
“Punt return and kick return is what I am shooting for,” Heath said. “I want the No. 1 spot, and I want to contribute on offense too, wherever I can get the ball in my hands and make big plays.”
K-State’s defense also played well behind sophomore linebacker Elijah Lee, who had 10 tackles, a sack and an interception return for a touchdown.
The Wildcats will spend the next few months trying to catch up on offense.
“We will somehow, someway become as good as we can,” Snyder said. “We just didn’t play well today.”
Notes — K-State announced its five captains for the 2015 season. They group features Cody Whitehair, Dante Barnett, Travis Britz, Morgan Burns and Stanton Weber.… A handful of notable players were withheld from the spring game for cautionary reasons. They were fullback Glenn Gronkowski, receiver Judah Jones, cornerback Danzel McDaniel, defensive tackle Britz, and offensive linemen Boston Stiverson and Matt Kleinsorge. Each of them dressed, but watched from the sideline.