The annual Purple-Gold Game wrapping up spring practice Sunday at E.J. Whitmire Stadium/Bob Waters Field featured a defensive struggle on both sides, with only a drive in the final minutes separating the two squads.
The contest featured 18 punts, two turnovers, and a missed field goal. Additionally, both teams combined only accounted for 192 yards, while last year’s Catamounts averaged over 450 yards per game.
The first half ended in a 0-0 tie, with neither team making serious moves on offense. The Gold squad made the strongest charge in the opening half, as they were able to drive the ball down to the Purple 13-yard line on the arm of Senior quarterback David Hunter.
Hunter completed three of five passes in the first half for 35 yards. As the drive stalled on the 13, however, red shirt freshman kicker Shon Rowser pulled the 30-yard effort wide left.
The opening of the second half mimicked the first, as neither team could move the ball. The first six combined drives all ended in three and out.
The Purple team notched the initial first down with less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter. This was only earned after the Gold squad committed an encroachment penalty.
After this drive quickly stalled, the Purple team got the ball back on their own 19-yard line after stopping the Gold on offense. Senior tailback Donnie Bryant, last year’s second-leading rusher, finally began to get on track.
He opened the drive with back-to-back 12-yard rushes. After being stopped for no gain on his third effort, sophomore tailback Johnta Philyaw darted ahead for an 11-yard run to move the ball into Gold territory. On a crucial third down and five, however, the purple were sacked and forced to punt.
The Gold then matched the Purple’s offensive intensity. Sophomore tailback Fred Boateng, who gained nearly 1,000 yards last season to lead Western, kicked off the drive with three straight rushes for 20 yards.
After Hunter was sacked to produce a third down and six, Boateng came through with a six-yard run to keep the drive going. After Hunter completed a short pass to sophomore tight end Brian Rucker, a time out was called with only 1:22 left in the game.
Immediately following the time out, Hunter threw the only interception of the game, which was returned to the 39-yard line of the Gold, giving the Purple one final chance.
Sophomore quarterback Brian Gaither wasted no time capitalizing on this opportunity. He quickly completed passes of three and nine yards to junior wide receiver Brendan Roy. He also connected with junior wide receiver Michael Banks, one of two Catamount receivers to gain over 1,000 yards last year, for eight yards.
Then, from twenty yards out, Gaither threw a lob to the back of the end zone, hauled in by Roy. With only two seconds remaining in the game, this score ended the game as a 6-0 victory for the Purple.
Bryant was named the offensive MVP of the game after rushing for 46 yards on 14 carries. Boateng equaled his mark of 46 yards on 15 carries, playing for the Gold.
Gaither led the way for the quarterbacks, completing nine passes on 22 attempts for 75 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Hunter stood out for the Gold squad, though he only completed four passes for 42 yards with an interception.
Roy led all receivers with 40 yards on five catches, including the game’s lone score. Right behind him was Purple teammate Michael Banks, who caught four balls for 39 yards. For the Gold, Rucker finished with three catches for 22 yards.
Meanwhile, Purple sophomore defensive end Michale Spicer was named the game’s MVP. He accounted for two sacks for a total loss of 16 yards.
His fellow Purple defender senior defensive tackle John Brashear was chosen as the game’s defensive MVP. Brashear recorded two tackles, one for loss, while forcing a fumble.
Head coach Bill Bleil was pleased with the performance of his defense on both teams. He also felt his offensive skill positions, chosen to be the strength of the Catamounts by many this season, played well.
“I was very pleased with the intensity and effectiveness of the defense,” said Bleil. “Our running backs played very well and the receivers did a great job trying to catch the ball.”
In addition, Bleil felt his squads adjusted well, considering the change of weather as the Cats had to deal with extremely high temperatures for the first time on Sunday.
“I thought the entire team played with great intensity considering we have not had a practice in the heat this spring,” he said.