Playing the spring game in the Moncla Indoor Facility was certainly something new for the UL football program.
But you could tell by the huge smile on the face of second-year coach Billy Napier that the experiment worked.
It’s typically hard to gauge how to properly evaluate a spring game.
There certainly wasn’t any arguing with the drama the game produced. It went down to the final play, with Vermilion squad running back Elijah Mitchell barreling in from the 1-yard line with no time left for a 35-31 come-from-behind win over the White team on Saturday.
“That format has produced lots of tight games,” Napier said. “That’s intriguing to me. It was very competitive. I was excited that it was very competitive. Lots of lead changes down the stretch.
“Quarterbacks making plays, receivers making plays, defense making stops at critical times. We’re fortunate that we’ve got a great facility here and we were able to make things work today.”
For some of the coaches and players on the White team, however, there was one too many lead changes. In the game’s final seconds, it appeared the game was over and the White team stormed the field to celebrate a win.
But 2 more seconds were put on the clock and the Vermilion team was given one final play.
There couldn’t be too much belly-aching, though, because the ruling came directly from the head coach.
“The commissioner made that decision, and I’m the commissioner,” Napier said. “I didn’t want the game to be over on a 10-second run-off. I’d much rather put the ball down and play. Certainly when our staff is divided and all kind of logistical issues, to end that game that way would have been a disgrace.
“So let’s put the ball down, let the teams play and see who wins. And I think the White team is going to see, they had a chance to make the play, just didn’t tackle the guy.”
Injuries have always been part of football, even in the spring.
The game was basically a matchup of the Vermilion team’s running game behind the first-team offensive line, coupled with star running backs Mitchell and Raymond Calais. Trey Ragas was injured early in spring and didn’t participate.
The Vermilion squad rushed for 172 yards. Mitchell finished with 113 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. Calais had the run of the game — a 17-yard score to cut White’s lead to 24-21 with 12:44 left to play.
Calais finished with 74 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries.
Levi Lewis was the quarterback of the Vermilion squad, hitting a critical 43-yard to Ja’Marcus Bradley late to help him finish 13 of 22 for 211 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions.
Bradley led the Vermilion receivers with seven receptions for 150 yards.
Throughout last year’s offseason, the biggest question surrounding UL football — besides the starting quarterback of course — was whether the …
But for most of the game, however, it was actually the White team’s passing game that shined the brightest.
Leading that parade was 6-foot-5 redshirt junior receiver Calif Gossett, who finished with eight receptions for 159 yards and two scores. That included a highlight-film catch and run on a 55-yard scoring play.
“Really, as I was coming across, it was kind of too far,” Gossett said. “I didn’t think I was going to catch it; then I’ve got to realize I’m long too, so I just put one hand out there and it stuck. So after it sticks, it’s time to slide.”
Brian Smith, a Barbe High product, was the other White team receiver standout. He had nine catches for 165 yards and a touchdown.
“That’s a bad boy,” Lewis said of Smith. “In his heart and soul, he’s from Baton Rouge. We breed animals over there. Brian Smith, he’s a beast. He’s another guy behind Ja’Marcus Bradley that’s going to play a big role. We’ve got depth on our team. We’re looking pretty good. This is just the spring. We’ve got more guys, so we’re still learning.”
Second-year UL football coach Billy Napier isn’t shy about proclaiming how much he values versatility in his players.
It definitely ended up being an offensive spectacle, but there were a few big defensive plays. White team cornerback Kamar Greenhouse came up for a big hit on Calais for a stop on fourth-and-short, and Vermilion safety Percy Butler had the game's only interception.
"For a spring game, it (indoors) was something new," Vermilion defensive end Joe Dillon said. "I’ve never played a spring game indoors like this, but it was fun. It was more fun than I expected it to be."
Of course, like in all spring games, the quarterbacks had the advantage of being off limits from contact.
"Especially in these spring games, it’s kind of hard, knowing you want to just run straight through them (quarterbacks), but knowing you can’t because you’re not trying to get in trouble by the head coach," Dillon laughed. "But then again, you’ve got just to practice it mentally and just have everything coming through, like ‘Yeah, I got that sack just then.’ ”