ADRIAN – The Siena Heights football team completed its spring season on Saturday with a short practice and scrimmage in front of hundreds of fans at O’Laughlin Stadium.
The team began with light stretching, five periods of individual group work, and a half hour of seven-on-seven drills. The Saints capped off the event with an offense versus defense scrimmage that lasted five drives.
On the second drive, Siena Heights quarterback Travis Zajkowski helped the Saints orchestrate the only touchdown of the scrimmage.
Zajkowski found wide receiver Raphael Dunson open on a seam route for a 35-yard touchdown pass. To set up the play, he hit Dunson with a 26-yard pass on the near sideline to move the offense to midfield.
He unofficially finished 4 of 6 for 73 yards in the contest.
The offense punted the ball away on its next two possessions.
Tailback Payton White ran the ball on eight of the final drive’s 10 plays to give the Saints a scoring opportunity at the goal line. On fourth and goal, quarterback James Williams rolled out of the pocket and found running back Travis Damron wide open in the end zone. However, Damron couldn’t hold on to the ball and his drop ended the scrimmage as the offense turned the ball over on downs.
White finished with nine carries for 35 yards.
“We ran (White) that many times by design,” Siena Heights coach Jim Lyall said. “We recently moved him to running back, and Payton showed throughout the course of the spring that he could run football and run it well. We gave him that opportunity today.”
The offense struggled at times against the defense but recorded admirable statistics. It ran 25 plays, gained 125 yards and only had four plays that went for zero or negative yardage.
“We practice against the fifth-ranked defense in the nation,” Lyall noted. “We know they’re going to challenge us, and we look at it as a great challenge because it gives us a great opportunity to improve. If we can compete and achieve against our defense, then we are doing something.”
Linebacker Trent Bragg led the defense with three tackles, while outside linebacker Deon Fondern recorded two. The Saints had 15 different defenders record a tackle in the scrimmage.
The defense performed well overall and only allowed two offensive plays that yielded big gains. The goal-line stand was also a positive takeaway for the unit.
Lyall said he was happy with how the defense played.
“We always have work to do, but we had a chance to install our defense,” he said. “We’ve had an opportunity for our young men to compete on a consistent basis and build a team, so I was very pleased.”
Bragg sustained an injury on the first drive of the scrimmage but was able to resume play after taking a few moments to collect himself off the turf.
Prior to the scrimmage portion of the spring game, the team pegged kickers Jonah Harter and Matt Horton against each other in a field goal kicking contest. Each kicker finished 4 of 5 on field goal attempts that ranged from 35 to 50 yards out.
There also was an added level of difficult to the contest because swirling winds blew throughout the stadium.
“They have pop and can get after a football on their follow through,” said Lyall of the kickers. “They can make kicks happen, but now they have to carry that through to the games.”
Lyall also said he was inspired by how many fans and recruits attended the game. He is excited to see fans and community support this upcoming season.
“The community and the families from this football team have supported us in a tremendous way for the first three years of our program,” Lyall said. “I expect this year to be even better. Every time you come to our stadium it is full. I can’t thank the people enough.”
Siena Heights finished last season with a 5-5 record and garnered seven votes in the recent NAIA Football Coaches’ Spring Top 25 poll. It kicks off the 2014 season by visiting Virginia Union at noon on Saturday, Sept. 6.
“We have high expectations,” Lyall said. “We’ve talked as a group of coaches, and as a team, not to be surprised by anything that we accomplish. That’s the reason we came here. We have 47 seniors, and, along with the coaching staff, we came here to build a program that Siena Heights could be proud of. We’ll compete on a national scale.”
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