With three weeks until Week 1 of the 2017 season, WKU Football ran a live scrimmage Saturday afternoon with encouraging results in all three facets.
In the first series, pinning the starting defense against the starting offense, quarterback Mike White was able to lead the Hilltoppers into the red zone. A handful of bruising runs by D’Andre Ferby and a long catch-and-run out of the backfield by Quinton Baker highlighted the drive.
But on a third down play, the defense struck back. A fade ball by White into the corner of the endzone was wrestled away by defensive back Roger Cray and returned for a touchdown down the sideline behind defenders-turned-blockers in white uniforms.
“Roger Cray is a guy who we need to step up big-time because we will certainly miss De’Andre Simmons a lot with his experience,” head coach Mike Sanford said. “[Cray] comes up with a one-handed interception and marches it 108 yards for a touchdown. He has stepped up in critical situations and asserted himself as not only a great player, but a playmaker. And that has been the case in two of our scrimmage situations.”
The play impressed Cray’s teammates on both sides of the ball, who also saw him come off the edge and block a field goal attempt in the overtime period at the end of the scrimmage.
“I threw a ball up in the endzone and Roger Cray made a hell of a play ... I’m really glad he’s on our team,” White said of the freshman from Columbia High School in Lake City, Florida.
“The more reps I take, the more comfortable I get,” Cray said. “I look up to Leverick Johnson, Joe Brown and De’Andre Simmons. I came here in January so I’ve gotten to see how they do things and follow after them.”
After a three-and-out forced by the defense, a more familiar face in the secondary also made a game-changing play. On a 15-yard route down the sideline, safety Marcus Ward swarmed to the ball and plucked it away from the intended receiver, taking it back about 50 yards for a second defensive score.
“It was great to see Marcus Ward back on the field, feeling good about running around and making plays,” Sanford said.
After that point, the head coach went on to explain, the offense responded with its punch. The senior field general White shared that sentiment.
“The first drive we moved the ball really well, a lot of our plays hit and we converted on third-and-short and third-and-long situations,” White said. “We did a good job of seeing who the guys are in the wideout position who can make big plays for us. We responded to adversity after a few turnovers and scored two quick touchdowns and then scored the touchdown to win the overtime period.”
The squad continues practices this month, leading up to the team's Week 1 opener vs. Eastern Kentucky on Sept. 2.
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