Gold tops White in battle for ribs

The Gophers’ Gold team ran for 190 yards in the team’s annual spring game.

Redshirt junior quarterback Conor Rhoda passes the ball to redshirt freshman running back James Johannesson during the Gophers Spring Game at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday.

Image by Maddy Fox

Redshirt junior quarterback Conor Rhoda passes the ball to redshirt freshman running back James Johannesson during the Gophers’ Spring Game at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday.

by Mike Hendrickson

A full slab of ribs, baked beans and mac and cheese was the prize for the victors of the spring game scrimmage between Gophers players Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.
The roster was split into Gold and White teams, and the Gold team ended up enjoying the post-game feast.
The Gold team captured a 19-7 victory over the White team in the last spring practice of the 2016 season, behind strong performances from redshirt freshman running back James Johannesson, redshirt sophomore kicker Emmit Carpenter and its thrown-together offensive line.
“Today’s day was for the kids and for them to have fun, and I think they did that,” head coach Tracy Claeys said. “At the same time, they also realize that once we become one team and all start working together, I think we have a chance to do some good things this fall.”
The spring game format was different than in previous years, which split up the offense and defense. This year the roster was jumbled, and the two teams played two 40-minute halves with a 10-minute halftime.
“I think this format is pretty good for us. I think a lot of guys liked it. You could just feel it in the locker room, the energy that guys had from this morning,” said redshirt senior right tackle Jonah Pirsig, who played for the Gold team. “Everyone was treating it like a real game. It’s fun to put all that work in for something at the end just like you do during a week during the season.”
Pirsig and junior college transfer Vincent Calhoun made up the right side of the Gold team’s offensive line, which paved the way for 190 rushing yards. Johannesson accounted for 130 of the yards, and Claeys said he might be the team’s most-improved offensive player this spring.
“Rushing for 190 yards was great,” said redshirt sophomore running back Rodney Smith, another member of the Gold team. “The [offensive line], they opened up some big holes, and we didn’t even have to do much. We just ran hard and tried to finish as many plays as possible.”
With starting quarterback Mitch Leidner recovering from a foot surgery, quarterbacks Demry Croft, Conor Rhoda and Seth Green took all the snaps in the game.
The three combined to go 14-33 passing for 97 yards and three interceptions, though Claeys noted after the game the team’s wide receivers struggled with drops. Claeys also said the team’s pass protection wasn’t as strong as it could be with the offensive lines mixed up.
Johannesson scored the game’s only touchdown on offense, with a 7-yard score early in the second half that put the Gold team ahead 13-7. The rest of the points in the game came from four field goals by Carpenter and an interception return for a touchdown by redshirt freshman linebacker Jaylen Waters.
Claeys said after the game it’s possible Carpenter will kick short field goals for the Gophers next season, while redshirt junior Ryan Santoso kicks longer ones and punts.
The Gophers ended spring practice with no serious injuries, though junior tight end Brandon Lingen has a shoulder issue that will need to be addressed, Claeys said.
The team will also still have parts of new offensive coordinator Jay Johnson’s system to learn in the fall, though spring practice gave the team a start.
“I think we’ve made good improvement these last five or six practices because we quit putting things in and let kids get good at it,” Claeys said. “We didn’t get everything accomplished that we needed. … We’ll take the next 20 practices to get things ready before we start preparing for our first game.”