There were plenty of reasons for University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football coach Russ Huesman to smile following Friday night's Blue/Gold spring game.
Players were given their shiny new Southern Conference championship rings to celebrate last season, and the offense was clicking both through the air and on the ground in a 24-10 win by the Blue team, which included mostly the second string on offense.
But the most satisfying smile from Huesman came as the old defensive coordinator in him began talking about what he saw from that side of the ball in the Mocs' final practice of the spring. The first-team defense limited the starting offense to those 10 points -- three in the first half.
"Our first defense looked really good, and I was proud of that," Huesman said before pausing to single out rising sophomore end Keionta Davis and allow a sly smile to curl his lips. "Keionta is disruptive."
Davis, who will line up on the opposite side of the defensive front from All-American Davis Tull, again showed glimpses of why opponents will have a tough time choosing which side to focus on this fall. He finished Friday's scrimmage with two sacks, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup to earn defensive MVP honors, and he also was named the Bob Davis Winter Warrior award winner for his offseason dedication and performance throughout the spring.
"I just know I've got to make my side a dominant side and make them respect me as much as they do Davis," Keionta said. "My whole emphasis is on making teams respect me. I know I have more work to do over the summer. All of us do.
"This was fun tonight ,and now I'm excited for the season and can't wait to get out there for real."
Rising senior Nick Pollard also proved why he could be a defensive weapon, with two punts that went for 54 and 56 yards. One was downed at the 7 and the other at the 16.
The offenses scored on the game's first three series, highlighted by several long passes by starting quarterback Jacob Huesman and Alejandro Bennifield, who's competing with Tyler Roberson for the backup job. Bennifield completed 15 of 21 attempts for 205 yards, including a nicely thrown 60-yard touchdown to Riley Davis, who totaled four catches for 90 yards.
Huesman threw for 137 yards and Roberson connected on 10 of 12 for 54 yards and a score.
Sophomore receiver C.J. Board was named the game's offensive MVP with six catches for 111 yards.
"Tonight shows I have more room to build and work and get better," Board said. "It felt great to be able to make a few plays and help, and catching deep passes is fun. The defense gets a lot of credit and for good reason, but we want to show that the offense can make some big plays, too."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...