FOOTBALL: Fresh faces shine in Western’s Spring Game

Sophomore receiver Marcus Vasquez catches a pass over sophomore defensive back Jamal Forrest during the third quarter of Western's Spring Game at Houchens-Smith Stadium on April 17. The White team went on to defeat the Red team, 47-16. ARMANDO L. SANCHEZ/HERALD

Saturday’s annual spring game brought on several firsts for the Western football team.

There was a new coach and almost an entirely new staff, a new offense, and even a new defense.

And after a seesaw battle between the offense and the defense all spring, Head Coach Willie Taggart said he just wanted to see one team win in Saturday’s game – and win big.

He got his wish as the White team rolled 47-16 thanks to fresh faces junior quarterback Matt Pelesasa and redshirt freshman wide receiver Willie McNeal.

“It felt great,” Taggart said. “We had a nice group of fans out here and everyone was happy. But I didn’t want the game to be close. I didn’t care what side it was. I just wanted to win big.”

Taggart said Pelesasa will go in to the summer as Western’s No. 1 quarterback, and he showed why on Saturday night.

He completed eight passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns. He even showed off his running abilities, carrying the ball nine times for 59 yards and a touchdown.

But Pelesasa credited McNeal and his offensive line for his success in what was his first start in a game as a Topper.

McNeal, who was named the game’s Most Valuable Player, ran the ball three times for 83 yards and a touchdown — also adding a 30-yard catch to his statistics.

“He can break a game wide open with any sort of play,” Pelesasa said of McNeal. “It helps tremendously to have a guy like him on our offense. He can break a wide open.”

McNeal quickly credited the offensive line as well for his success, saying they should have been awarded the MVP award instead of him.

It wasn’t just McNeal who was making plays, though. Junior wide receiver Derrius Brooks caught a 66-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Tyler Bruce in the second quarter and Pelesasa hooked up with sophomore wide receiver Marcus Vasquez for a 50-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.

Although the score was somewhat lopsided, Taggart said he actually liked what he saw from both teams.

Senior linebacker Thomas Majors of the Red team led both teams in tackles with 11, while sophomore linebacker Josh Carter led the White team with six.

Although Western was only allowed fifteen practices, Taggart said he saw his team improve in everything he wanted them to improve on – which was mostly fundamentals. But now with spring practice in the books, Taggart said the team and coaches are looking toward fall to finish up on their improvements.

“I think we as a coaching staff can make a big improvement because we are still getting used to each other,” he said. “We can use this offseason to shore up things and teach them exactly how we want it.”

Taggart said the players need to use the offseason to get bigger, faster, and stronger.

“I want them to hit the weight room with enthusiasm unknown to mankind,” he said. “I want them studying film too. I want them knowing this offense and defense better than us, because come summertime, we’re not going to be with them. The more work they can get done together, the more comfortable they’ll be.”

Cole Claybourn


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