FOOTBALL: Annual Red-White game Saturday

J. Michael Moore

Casey Rooney was frustrated and bruised after yesterday’s spring football scrimmage.

But he accepted it.

In fact, he smiled.

He knows it will all get better.

Rooney, a quarterback, took his first real hits of the spring season yesterday as head coach David Elson declared it open season on Hilltopper quarterbacks.

Normally, Rooney and fellow signal-caller Perez Smith are sheltered, protected from contact by a green jersey.

The switch in intensity gave the defense the upper hand again yesterday as Rooney and the first-team offense struggled for just two touchdowns – both inside the red zone.

The Toppers also turned the ball over four times and left several balls on the turf after bad snaps.

“We didn’t play too well,” Rooney said. “We started out pretty sluggish. We’ve been having a problem with shotgun snaps, but too many tailbacks and quarterbacks are putting the ball on the ground.”

The Topper offense was coming off its best performance of the spring in Saturday’s scrimmage.

Jacques Johnson rushed for 88 yards, while Rooney tallied 121 yards of total offense.

Rooney went 10-for-19 passing for 82 yards. Smith went 5-for-8 for another 41 yards.

Smith also rushed for a score in the game.

Anthony Bates and Charles Thompson led the defense with seven tackles.

But the defense reiterated its dominance early in yesterday’s scrimmage.

Teco Dickerson intercepted a tipped pass from Perez Smith, marking the unit’s first takeaway.

The Toppers limped to recovery.

Rooney would later rush for a touchdown and connect on a fade route with Robert Morand for a second score.

But it’s just spring practice.

Rooney said it’s frustrating working against such a talented defense, but he knows he and the Topper offense will be all the more ready come game time because of the intense pressure.

He said Western’s smaller defense creates a lot of blitzing, something he and Smith will have to get used to once the season rolls around.

Saturday’s annual Red and White game will also be a proving ground, matching the White (No. 1 defense/No. 2 offense) against the Red (No. 1 offense/No. 2 defense).

The game is scheduled for 4 p.m., with the ring ceremony for last year’s national championship team following at six.

“It’s got to be (a good game) for both of us,” Rooney said of him and Smith. “There are lots of questions out there and lots of people second guessing us.”

Saturday’s game will also be a live scrimmage, meaning the quarterbacks are fair game.

Elson looks for more success out of the offense and continued effort from the defense.

“I thought the defense came out and reestablished themselves today,” the first-year head coach said.

He also liked Rooney’s athleticism, especially on one scramble that racked up 21 yards for the junior quarterback.

“I was surprised that Casey could get loose for 21 yards on a defense, especially as well as our defense runs,” Elson said.

Look for Chris Miller and Johnson to continue to split time as first team running backs on Saturday.

Elson said there is still a battle between Rooney and Smith, as well, and several other positions have yet to be decided.

The spring game will help those decisions.

He said the game’s set up will allow the coaching staff to examine talent evenly since the top players will be paired against one another.

Coaches were drafted for the game after yesterday’s practice, leading to not only the year’s first “game” but also a sense of competition.

“We’re looking at steaks for the winners and hot dogs for the losers,” Elson said, adding that he wasn’t sure what the budget would actually allow.

“You don’t even have to put that (wager) on the table,” he said. “They just want to come out and compete.”

Elson said he expects all seniors back for the ring ceremony after the Red and White game.

Saturday will close out spring football practice for the Toppers.

Reach J. Michael Moore at [email protected]