Union College football wraps up spring drills with Orange-White Game

​BARBOURVILLE, Ky. – The Union College football team wrapped up spring practice with the Orange-White game on Saturday at Williamson Stadium, and head coach Zak Willis could not be happier with the results produced.

The format of the game had the Orange team spotted 24 points as the Bulldogs’ top unit made up the White team. There were a total of three scoring drives on the day, and when the dust settled, the Orange team won 31-10.

“We have a good crowd of people,” said Willis. “We had Mid-South Conference officials, so it was a legitimate spring game. We were extremely happy with how the atmosphere was. I had a lot of positive comments from fans, supporters and parents as well. It was one of the better small college spring games I’ve been to.”

The primary goal for the team since the season ended was to improve the defense, and judging by the results from Saturday, the Bulldogs are well on their way. The team recorded eight sacks and allowed only 93 yards rushing on 42 carries for a 2.2 yard-per-carry average.

“We looked a lot better fundamentally as a football team, and we look like we are going to fill some of the holes created by graduation,” said Willis.

Ryan Coleman and Jake Averhart highlighted the defensive effort as both linebackers played all 107 snaps. Coleman notched 12 tackles, forced a fumble and intercepted two passes. Averhart recorded 15 total stops.

Other defensive highlights included transfer Serge Vita, who had two tackles, a sack and a tackle for a loss playing in one quarter. Charles Wilkins had three tackles, a sack and a tackle for a loss, while Tucker Lewis posted four tackles with one going for a loss.

On offense, Cardell Rhett hauled in four passes for 80 yards, and Nate McCoy also caught four passes for a total of 50 yards. Keith Neal was the Bulldogs’ top rusher with 56 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.

Quarterback Blake Byerly and Lance Morton each had good showing. Byerly finished with 92 yards on 6-of-10 passing, while Morton threw for 116 yards and a touchdown in completing 7-of-12 passes.

“We had some guys step and surprise us, and that’s a good thing because you’re going to need them,” said Willis. “If you’re going to make a run in the Mid-South Conference and try to contend, your stars are not going to have their best games every week. Other people have to contribute. That’s what makes a winning team.”

Union starting quarterback Chandler Whittlesey played only the first quarter but did lead the team on a scoring drive.

“The defense is what we were focused on, and they played a whole lot better than they had last year,” the Bulldog coach noted.

Willis was real pleased out of what he saw from the secondary. Buddy Harrison moved from linebacker to safety and finished with 10 tackles, while Kenneth Cauley recorded nine of his own. Meanwhile, Juwel Laguerre played 78 snaps and graded out 99.5 percent.

“Just mistake-free football, which is something we did not have last year,” Willis said of Laguerre’s performance.

“The future is bright for us,” the coach continued. “We’ve come a long way, but we’ve still got a long ways to go. But we are happy with our progress.”

Another thing Willis is happy about is the fact the team did not suffer any major injuries during spring practice, attributing it to the Bulldogs’ improved conditioning.

“Coach (Brendan) Gregory has done a phenomenal job with our football team,” Willis said of Union’s Director of Strength and Conditioning. “These kids are bigger, faster and stronger than they were. They’re more aggressive, and they’re a lot more durable. And our kids have learned how to practice and take care of each other. We’re a lot smarter football team, and a lot of that is just maturity more than anything else.”

As far needs still needing to be filled for next season, Willis said the offense needs one more wide receiver to step up and need help at left guard. Defensively, the Bulldogs are looking for someone to lock down the weak-side linebacker position.

The Bulldogs will reunite for the fall practices on Aug. 5. Union will open the 2015 campaign on Sept. 5 at home against Warner (Fla.). Kickoff is set for 12 p.m.

Union posted a 1-9 overall mark and went 1-5 in MSC East play in 2014. The Bulldogs begin MSC East on Sept. 26 at Cumberlands (Ky.).

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