The Wagner Era in Cullowhee Kicks Off With Annual Spring Game

CULLOWHEE- On Saturday, April 19, the Western Carolina football program held it’s annual Purple/White Spring football game at E.J. Whitmire Stadium, which marked the beginning of a new era in Catamount football. The offensive unit (the white squad) defeated the defensive unit (the purple) 35-16 in a 100-play game that lasted only one hour and 45 minutes due to the team not having enough players to divide into two different teams at this point of the year. “Our guys have worked hard. We’ve had 15 practices and everyday we got better, that was our goal to make steps forward no matter what happens and every day we got a little bit better,” said Coach Wagner after the game. En route to their four touchdowns on the afternoon, the offensive unit was coached by offensive coordinator Keith Heckendorf, and the defensive unit was coached by defensive coordinator Matt Pawlowski and was led by three quarterbacks who all put up strong numbers, proving why choosing a starter might be a hard decision for Coach Wagner and his staff. Last season’s starter Adam Hearns went 8-of-11 through the air and threw for 67 yards. He also had the only two passing touchdowns of the game. Canton native Zack Jaynes, who participated in his first collegiate spring game with the team, went 6-of-12 for 75 yards and an interception. Rising senior and two-time starter Andy Horn went 11-of-21 with 109 yards and a rushing touchdown. Because there were not enough members of the team to divide into two separate teams, the game was played in a series of three separate sets. The first two sets consisted of seven drives apiece, while the final set consisted of only three, for a total of 17 drives on the afternoon. The scoring worked like normal for the offense, but it was a little bit different for the defense. The offense would get six points for a touchdown, one point for the PAT, and three points for a field goal. For defensive stops, the defense would be awarded one point, for turnovers they would receive two points, missed field goals resulted in two points, and defensive touchdowns would give them seven points. The Catamount defense had the offensive unit shutout until the final play of the first set. Trailing 9-0, Jaynes led the offense down the field for a five-play 55 yard drive that ended with a three yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Willie Harper, to make the score 9-7 right before the break. The offensive unit accumulated 425 total yards, with 157 rushing and 268 through the air. Harper led the team with 95 yards of total offense. He picked up 64 yards rushing on 13 carries. He also had four catches with 31 yards. Defensively, Western Carolina was led by junior Michael Shaw who finished the day with seven tackles including one for a loss. The defense also forced two turnovers on the afternoon. In the fourth drive of the first set, junior Chaz Jackson knocked the ball loose from runningback Josh Wright, and the fumble was recovered by Lee Stanley. The defensive stop gave the defense two points on the scoreboard. In the third drive of the second set, freshman Janoris Darby intercepted Jaynes at the offense’s 38-yardline and returned it for nearly 30 yards before finally being stopped. “I thought the defense came out strong,” said Wagner. “I thought they did some great things early and then kind of ran out of gas. Offensively, we kept with it. I do not like the sloppiness we had in the middle (of the scrimmage) where we had some penalties. Those are things we have got to eliminate – we can’t waste any opportunities. Again, there are a lot of things we can do discipline-wise and consistency-wise to be a better football team.” Offensively, the Catamounts were led in receptions by V.J. Hunt with five catches for 47 yards, Donald James had four catches for 43 yards. Marquel Pittman caught the first of two passing touchdowns from Hearns in the opening drive of the second set. Pittman finished with two catches and 21 yards. The other touchdown pass was a 30-yard bomb to Kyle Garland in the fourth drive of the second set. “Today was a learning experience for our guys,” said offensive coordinator Keith Heckendorf, “We put the quarterbacks and all the players in positions the game atmosphere that they haven’t seen in quite a while. This was a test for us to see where we are at right now. From an offensive perspective, I thought we did a lot of really positive things out there.” The Catamounts will open their season on Thursday Aug. 28 against Shorter College. The Southern Conference season will begin on Sat. Sept. 27 at The Citadel. The Catamounts will be looking to break out of a two year losing streak in the conference. Currently, the team has 57 players on the active roster and 21 signees in Coach Wagner’s inaugural recruiting class coming into Cullowhee in the fall. The Catamounts will field 78 players next season. “The guys that are here want to be here,” said Jaynes after the Spring Game. “Everybody has been bonding together. We’ve done a lot of team activities and everyone is really coming together. We’re going to pull out a good season next year.” The Spring Game marked the end of the NCAA allotted 15 spring practices over a 20-day period. Now, ‘Wags’ and his staff will turn their attention to summer workouts and conditioning. The team will report back for camp in the first week of August to prepare for the 2008 football season.