MIAMI — Much like a college classroom instructor, the Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College Golden Norsemen football coaching staff came close to issuing a perfect grade following the annual Blue-Gold scrimmage, Thursday, May 3, at Red Robertson Field.
“We talked earlier in the week that we wanted both teams to have balance, energy, playing as hard and as fast as we can and having a whole lot of fun,” first year head coach Zach Allen said. “I think we accomplished those goals.”
The end result of the 90-minute, intrasquad scrimmage was a come-from-behind 16-14 victory for the Blue squad.
Under the direction of first-year defensive coordinator Zach Crissup, the Blue team needed an interception by redshirt freshman Trenton Dunn with just 21 seconds left to stop a potential scoring drive by the Gold team.
“Trenton played a little for us last year and has had a phenomenal spring at linebacker,” Allen said. “He hasn’t had enough reps thus far and that is my fault.
“We really expect him to step into a linebacking spot in July because of the loss of experience we’ve had at linebacker from last year,” Allen said. “He’s going to keep that experience train moving because of his attitude and ability.”
A couple of long touchdown plays during the first 15 minutes allowed the teams to battle to a 7-7 draw heading into the second half.
First-year offensive coordinator Andrew Rice and his coaching staff guided the Gold team to a 14-13 lead with 3:43 showing on the clock.
After moving to the Gold 23-yard line, the Blue squad elected to attempt a 40-yard field goal with 1:21 remaining in the scrimmage.
Despite kicking into the wind, Grove sophomore placekicker Tommy Heatherly split the uprights to give the Blue team a 16-14 margin.
“We had some guys that stepped up and made big plays through out the scrimmage,” Allen said. “We were kind of waiting on those type plays over the course of the spring.
“But when the lights of Robertson Field came on, they showed up,” Allen said. “Those were very encouraging to us as a coaching staff.”
One of the by-products of the scrimmage for the coaches was the fact that a lot of players got a lot of repetitions during the duration of the scrimmage.
“This has been a long, long spring session for this team,” Allen said. “We had coaching changes and we put them through a very rigorous 20-practice schedule to get them to this point.
“So this was a very important experience for the guys that put in that kind of work,” Allen said. “We wanted to make sure that the guys had their chance to shine.
“As a coach, you never know,” Allen said. “We had some players that got a good look that maybe hadn’t been evaluated enough in our first two scrimmages.”
During the spring workouts, the offensive coaches focused on developing a skill set and some depth.
“It’s not like we’re lacking talent on the offensive side,” Allen said. “That’s absolutely not the case. We just lack experience at this level.”
Wide receivers like redshirt freshman Cecil Cole, true freshman Matt Ray and redshirt sophomore Marcheenan Hair turned in quality performances according to Allen.
“These guys stepped up and did a good job in running their routes and creating separation with the secondary,” Allen said. “Then, they completed the play by catching the football.”
Also turning in consistent performances at running back were Afton freshman Gunner Hudson, along with redshirt sophomore Darran Williams and redshirt freshman transfer (Houston Baptist) James Brown.
“Darran showed that he is more than ready to take a pretty big role as our leading ball carrier,” Allen said. “All three of these players had some nice touches coming out of the backfield.”
Much of the success of the running game of both teams was due to the play of the interior offensive lines.
“I’d like to publicly commend these guys because they took a real physical beating over the course of a month and a half of spring ball,” Allen said. “We’ve developed some nice technique along the line.
“They’ve really come together as a unit and enjoy playing next to each other,” Allen said. “They know their strengths and weaknesses and know how to play off those things to be better.
“Our offensive line is truly our catalyst,” Allen said. “If we can continue to build and develop this area during the summer and fall, then we should be very successful.”
While the offense achieved some success, the defense relied on its experience and savvy.
“Guys like redshirt freshmen cornerbacks Sterlin Ortiz and transfer Devodric Bynam (Houston) has a really nice game,” Allen said. “Then we also had a veteran like redshirt sophomore Greg
McCalister go out and show why he is Division I player and a consistent guy for us in the back end.”
After a round table meeting with his entire staff on Friday, Allen and the other coaches will meet with each individual player Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss their football future.
Incoming freshmen recruits, transfers and returning players return to the NEO campus on July 1, to begin the month-long academic and workout session.