Thanks to a late comeback that erased a 9-0 third-quarter deficit, the Gray chalked up a 17-9 victory over the Scarlet on a beautiful afternoon in front of 75,301 sun-worshipers in Ohio Stadium.
Although the play was ragged at times, the game was highlighted by several outstanding individual efforts, including an 80-yard touchdown return with a fumble by Gray linebacker Larry Grant that cemented his team’s victory.
Grant’s return was one of several outstanding defensive plays during a game in which the Buckeyes were somewhat shorthanded on offense. Projected starters including tailback Chris Wells and right tackle Kirk Barton did not play because of minor injuries, while receivers Brian Hartline and Ray Small also saw only limited action in the first half.
Others missing the game with various injuries included linemen Kyle Mitchum and Jon Skinner, and all of the missing players forced the squads to use patchwork lines in front of inexperienced quarterbacks. As a result, each of the three scholarships QBs hoping to take a stranglehold of the starting position had his ups and downs.
Projected starter Todd Boeckman managed to complete 6 of 14 passes for the Scarlet team, turning those into a game-high 103 yards. But the 6-5, 235-pounder was unable to move his team much until the final minutes, and it was Boeckman’s fumble that Grant returned for the touchdown.
Meanwhile, Robby Schoenhoft and Antonio Henton switched back and forth between the Scarlet and Gray during the afternoon. Schoenhoft was much more effective for the Gray, completing 5 of 10 passes for 75 yards and a touchdown. For the afternoon, the 6-6, 240-pound sophomore was 7 of 15 for 83 yards and the score.
Henton also experienced better times in a Gray jersey, connecting on 7 of 10 attempts in the first half. But he was plagued by some poor decisions and pitched a total of three interceptions during the game – two for the Gray and one for the Scarlet. His first pick was returned 49 yards for a touchdown in the first quarterback by Scarlet linebacker Marcus Freeman.
OSU head coach Jim Tressel told reporters after the game that he wasn’t ready to make any pronouncements on the starting quarterback position until the team reconvenes in August for fall camp.
“If we had a game tomorrow, the order that we started with this spring (Boeckman as the starter followed by Schoenhoft and then Henton) would be the order,” Tressel said. “But we don’t have a game tomorrow and we have 29 practices this fall. I will say this: I don’t know that anyone lost any ground this spring.”
Because of the cobbled-together protection, each of the quarterbacks found himself often ducking for cover even though Tressel instructed the prohibited the defenses from blitzing until third down. Still, the trio combined to run the ball 19 times in the game, accounting for 36 yards.
Tressel attributed the scrambling to breakdowns in protection.
“I’d say it was probably about 75 percent breakdowns from a protection standpoint,” the OSU coach said. “But sometimes when you’re getting rushed, you’re a little quick to get started and that is one of the hardest things for a young quarterback. When you can stand in the pocket, with everything flying around you, and remain calm and do what you have to do to be successful, that’s when you’ll know the game has slowed down for you.”
Despite their struggles, the quarterbacks had several accomplishments.
With his team trailing 9-3 early in the fourth quarter, Schoenhoft engineered a 50-yard scoring drive for the Gray that included completing 3 of 4 pass attempts and a nifty 8-yard scramble on a third-and-5. Two plays later, Schoenhoft found tight end Brandon Smith in the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown. Aaron Pettrey added the PAT to give the Gray a 10-9 advantage with 5:24 to play.
That gave Boeckman a chance to rally the Scarlet, and he started the ensuing drive with a 5-yard pitch to tight end Andy Miller and later lofted a throw to split end Kyle Ruhl, who made a nice over-the-shoulder grab for a 17-yard gain.
Five plays later, facing 4-and-1 at the Gray 39 with 1:46 remaining, Boeckman crossed up the defense. Rather than trying to sneak for the first-down yardage, he faked the ball to tailback Marcus Williams and threw to tight end J.D. Larson, who got behind cornerback Malcolm Jenkins for a 28-yard reception.
Unfortunately for the Scarlet, that was their last gasp. Called for illegal motion on the next play and moved back to the 16-yard line, tailback Joe Gantz rushed for 2 yards on first down before Boeckman fumbled and Grant took the loose ball 80 yards the other way.
“I thought that was a good drive that Robby had there in the fourth quarter,” Tressel said. “I also thought it was a good drive for Todd there at the end.”
As far as Henton was concerned, the interceptions seemed to mar an otherwise excellent spring.
“Antonio has done some good things and made some good things happen today,” Tressel said. “He also made some errors like young guys will do sometimes. As far as all of the quarterbacks are concerned, you don’t like to see interceptions run back for touchdowns. You have to have the game slow down in order to make good decisions, but it takes experience to slow the game down. Games like today are when you get that experience.”
In addition to the quarterback play, a pair of veteran players had excellent spring games as they tried to make a statement for increased playing time this fall. Wide receiver Devon Lyons had three receptions for a game-high 72 yards for the Gray while cornerback Shaun Lane led all tacklers in the contest, registered eight stops, including seven solos, for the Scarlet.
Tailback Maurice Wells was the game’s leading rusher with 48 yards on 14 carries for the Gray. Schoenhoft was next, scrambling four times for 28 yards during his time on the Gray squad, and punter A.J. Trapasso broke off a 15-yard gallop during a punt fake, including lowering his head at the end and steamrolling Scarlet defensive back Zach Willis.
Gantz was the top rusher for the Scarlet, getting 10 carries for 36 yards. Williams added 21 yards on five carries.
In the receiving department, there were several short dumps to safety valves that prevented anyone from coming close to Lyons ’ total. Albert Dukes had three catches for 20 yards for the Scarlet, while Larson had two receptions for 36 yards. Brian Robiskie accounted for the longest offensive play of the game, gathering in a 40-yard pass from Boeckman late in the first quarter.
Defensively, the tackles were spread around almost evenly. Behind Lane’s effort for the Scarlet team were linebackers Freeman and Austin Spitler, each of whom had six tackles. Defensive tackle Doug Worthington and cornerback Donald Washington added five apiece.
For the Gray, linebacker James Laurinaitis was credited with six tackles while linebackers Mark Johnson and Ryan Lukens, cornerback Chimdi Chekwa and Grant each had four. Three of Grant’s four stops were for loss, including two sacks, and he also forced two fumbles – including the one by Boeckman that he recovered and returned for the touchdown.
Defensive end Lawrence Wilson also had a sack for the Gray, while Scarlet defensive end Vernon Gholston and linebacker Thaddeus Gibson each had a sack. Also for the Scarlet, linebacker Curtis Terry and defensive tackle Todd Denlinger shared a sack.
The scoring got under way with Freeman’s interception return at the 8:44 mark of the first quarter. But Ryan Pretorius’ PAT attempt was blocked by Dexter Larimore, keeping the Scarlet’s lead at 6-0.
Pretorius added a 37-yard field goal at the 11:47 mark of the second period to stretch the Scarlet advantage to 9-0, and that stood up until Pettrey booted a 40-yarder for the Gray to trim the score to 9-3 with 9:47 left in the fourth quarter.
Schoenhoft’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Smith and Pettrey’s point-after gave the Scarlet a 10-9 advantage at the 5:24 mark, and Grant scored the clincher with just 30 seconds remaining.
· Each team wore Virginia Tech logos on their helmets in remembrance of those killed earlier in the week on the Blacksburg , Va. , campus. Tressel said he phoned Tech head coach Frank Beamer to ask permission to wear the logos, and that Beamer said the school would be honored by the gesture.
· Members of the Ohio State men’s basketball team served as honorary head coaches for the game. David Lighty, who also played football while in high school at Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph, was in charge of the victorious Scarlet team and enjoyed needling Gray head coach Mike Conley Jr. following the game, saying, “Football minds are better than basketball minds.”
· Several former Buckeyes were in attendance at the game including Antonio Pittman, T.J. Downing, Doug Datish, David Patterson, Roy Hall and Ashton Youboty. Each of the players patrolled one sideline or the other – sometimes both. Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith was also at the game, but did not go onto the field and left at halftime.
· The crowd of 75,301 broke the record for spring game attendance, set just last year when 63,649 showed up for a 12-0 Scarlet victory.