HUNTINGTON — A handful of plays showed that maybe, just maybe, Marshall’s expected big season won’t go down the drain if quarterback Rakeem Cato is injured.
There was Gunnar Holcombe’s touchdown passes to Justin Hunt, of 60 and 65 yards. There was Cole Garvin fumbling a snap on first down, but recovering to hit Craig Wilkins for 21 yards on third down.
And then there was Garvin, the just-out-of-high-school freshman making a little magic on a third-and-8. Flushed out of the pocket — he was “live” and could be tackled — he bought himself several seconds before throwing across his body. It was a perfect shot to Deon-Tay McManus on the sideline, good for 19 yards.
There were some caveats on that and other big offensive plays. A large chunk of the defense was held out — James Rouse, Ra’Shawde Myers, Evan McKelvey, Corey Tindal, Neville Hewitt, Keith Baxter and Darryl Roberts. Rouse, McKelvey and Roberts were healthy.
Still, the pass is something on which to build.
“I did my little spin move to evade the pressure,” Garvin said. “What I haven’t been doing in practice is keeping my eyes downfield, just throwing it away or running it. I tried real hard today to keep my eyes downfield. I saw Deon-Tay come out of his break, threw it to him, he caught it.
“That was when things were clicking and I was feeling comfortable. Nervousness was gone and I was feeling normal back there.”
Garvin went 10 of 17 for 109 yards, with a 6-yard touchdown pass to McManus; Holcombe went 11 of 18 for 220 yards and three TDs. He hit Hunt for those two scores, then hooked up with Angelo Jean-Louis on a pretty 35-yard fly pattern.
After two tough Saturday scrimmages, Holcombe was delighted, perhaps even relieved by his performance.
“I took a good step, [but] a baby step. I have a long way to go,” Holcombe said. “[Rakeem] Cato tells me everything; if I do something wrong, he’s on my butt. I want to push him. I want to push him to my best potential, I want to push myself to my best potential, and I want the kids I’m competing with to push me, and push themselves.”
The three backup quarterbacks (also including Kevin Anderson) had to push themselves, in part because they were not wearing the red “no-contact” jerseys. Only Cato was protected, and he played only 20 snaps.
(He had a tough day, going 3 for 11 with an interception, but with a 56-yard touchdown to Eric Frohnapfel.)
Garvin admitted he forgot that he was “live” at one point, but the defense reminded him.
“I want to say in the first drive, I got sacked [indeed, by Ricardo Williams],” Garvin said. “I saw the guy right in front of me and I did nothing, and I got sacked. I said to myself, ‘Oh, yes, I’m live.’ ”
After 14 practices filled with touch “sacks,” there was a method to that physical madness.
“Not one of those three kids has taken a college snap,” said offensive coordinator Bill Legg. “If you remember two years ago, Blake Frohnapfel was live in the spring game, because he was redshirted and had never taken a college snap.
“Now last year, Blake wasn’t live, and neither was Cato, because they had both played in games and proved themselves, and they didn’t need to get hit.”
The youngsters also performed before their first sizable gathering, 9,163 on a warm, sunny day at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. And they performed before a nice gathering of the Herd’s NFL alumni, including team scrimmage “coaches” Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich. For the record, Holcombe and Team Leftwich defeated Garvin and Team Pennington 30-13.
Marshall is known for its former players visiting to back the team, and Garvin and Holcombe saw that firsthand. It made an impression.
“That was really awesome,” Garvin said. “We had Chad and Byron speak to us [Friday]. Byron came and spoke to the quarterbacks individually, and hearing their knowledge and take on the game, how much the game still means to them even though they’re 10, 15 years graduated, that makes you want to carry on the legacy and not let them down.”
So how did the young QBs do in this spring game?
“When you make them live like that, you find out,” said MU coach Doc Holliday. “They both did some good things, and I thought they made mistakes, which they’re going to do as young players. There’s no doubt they can play, but they have to make better decisions at times.”
n The defense recorded five sacks and four interceptions, but the offense probably got the upper hand. It ran 101 plays for 655 total yards, including 224 yards on 51 carries rushing.
n Steward Butler gained 95 yards on just five carries, including a 75-yard TD run. Kevin Anderson played in the very short second half at QB, going 0 for 4 with a pick.
n Randy Moss made an appearance, much to the delight of MU’s receiving corps. The roll of other ex-Marshall players with NFL time at the game: Troy Brown, Chris Crocker, Chris Massey, Doug Chapman, Vinny Curry and Nate Poole. Add to that John Grace, the former superstar in the Canadian Football League. There were many more MU alums who didn’t play NFL ball, as well.
n On the offensive side, receiver Tommy Shuler and Kevin Grooms were held out. Both went through the spring healthy.
n Pennington and Leftwich threw ceremonial first passes. Pennington threw a simple 8-yard pass to Moss, but Leftwich went for it all — and his bomb was dropped by Crocker. The crowd was reminded why Crocker played safety.
n Linebacker Raheem Waiters upheld the Herd’s honor by defeating two contestants in a 40-yard dash for $3,000 in tuition and books. Waiters was a state sprint champ at Riverside High.
n The Green-White Game was the last on MU’s 9-year-old FieldTurf, with replacement work scheduled to begin this week.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.