Red Team gets win as Toppers practice for last time this spring

Junior wide receiver Andrew Pettijohn, right, is pulled down by senior defensive back Jamal Forrest during the WKU Red vs. White spring game at Houchens-Smith Stadium Saturday. Red won the game 16-10.

Lucas Aulbach

The Toppers closed out their spring practice schedule on Saturday night, with the Red Team beating the White Team 16-10 in front of about 3,500 WKU fans.

A strong performance by junior running back Antonio Andrews for the White Team wasn’t enough to top a good first game for redshirt freshman quarterback James Mauro and a stellar showing from sophomore defensive back Jonathan Dowling for the Red Team.

Head Coach Willie Taggart, who acted as “commissioner” while defensive line coach Eric Mathies and quarterbacks coach Nick Sheridan coached the squads, said the scrimmage was a good way to close out the spring.

“Overall, I’m happy with this football team,” he said. “I love it. I think our Hilltopper fans will love this team as we continue to climb and continue to make it something special around here.”

The Red Team, coached by Mathies, was led on offense by Mauro, who finished 12-of-21 for 107 yards with a touchdown pass to junior fullback Kadeem Jones.

Taggart said the quarterback looked good in his first action in front of WKU fans, but he also made some poor choices that caused him to get sacked a total of seven times.

“I thought he made some good throws. I thought he made some freshman mistakes, too,” he said. “There were a couple times he could’ve thrown the ball away, and he didn’t.

“But that comes with experience and more time. I think you all can see we have a player there.”

Dowling was the real highlight for the Red Team. The former Florida safety was named MVP after he snagged two interceptions over the course of the game and ran one into the end zone in the fourth quarter to give the Red Team the lead for good.

rterback Kawaun Jakes went 12-of-26 for 141 yards, throwing two costly interceptions to Dowling.

Taggart said while Jakes made some plays, he needs the quarterback to complete more passes.

“With Kawaun, I want to see more completions,” he said. “I want to see a higher completion percentage. I think with this offense, you need to have a high percentage.”

Andrews accounted for much of the White Team’s offense on Saturday. The junior gained 123 yards on 18 carries, including a 34-yard run from his own 1-yard line in the second quarter.

Despite this, his biggest play of the night came though the air. Andrews scored the only touchdown of the game for the White Team in the third quarter, breaking two tackles and running for a 56-yard score after catching a swing pass from Jakes.

He finished with two catches for 67 yards.

Taggart had talked for much of the past few weeks about finding one running back to separate themselves from the pack competing for the starting job, left vacant by Bobby Rainey. Andrews turned in the best performance of the bunch on Saturday.

Junior running back Keshawn Simpson gained 30 yards on six carries, and sophomore John Evans had 10 yards on three carries as well as 30 yards on five receptions. Evans also had a 50-yard kickoff return.

Both played for the winning Red Team.

Andrews wouldn’t speculate on how his performance in the scrimmage would reflect on the competition for the starting running back job, saying the real competition won’t start for a couple of months.

“Spring doesn’t matter. It’s all training camp,” Andrews said. “When you’re done with training camp, we’ll know who the starter is, and we’re all competing.”

The spring game, the last on-field work for the Toppers until June, closes the book on the spring practice period.

Andrews said the running backs on the team are capable of replacing Rainey, and the Toppers are a better team than they were last season.

“We’re just a young group, but some of us coming back have some experience,” Andrews said. “We’ve got a lot of experience out there, so hopefully we’ll be good.”

Taggart is also buying into this year’s team. He said the game was a perfect way to end the most successful spring the Toppers have had since he was hired almost three years ago.

“I’m very pleased. It was by far our best spring since I’ve been here, and that started back in January,” he said. “Our guys came with the right attitude, and they finished strong.”