By BRAD KEITH
To say members of the Tarleton State football program have been through a lot this spring would be a huge understatement.
They lost a head coach then began spring practice under his replacement who was hired from within.
They lost a teammate who suffered a head injury during a scrimmage and passed away two days later.
They rebounded, fought through those obstacles, and on Saturday, completed what new head coach Cary Fowlersays is just one phase in a long journey.
"It's a journey," Fowler said following the annual Purple vs. White spring game at Tarleton Memorial Stadium. "A journey I hope continues well into December."
The first phase of that journey ended with the defense knocking off the offense 40-32 in an unusual scoring system that awarded points for everything from a tackle for loss to a touchdown.
Fowler has not named a starting quarterback, but redshirt freshman Aaron Doyle was clearly the most impressive of the four candidates Saturday.
Doyle rushed three times for 26 yards and a touchdown during the game-phase of the event, and had a 15-yard run while operating the four-minute offense (geared to get first downs while melting off the final minutes of the clock).
His touchdown came when the offense decided to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the seven. Doyle was flushed out of the pocked, but beat the defense to the corner and stepped just inside the pylon for the TD.
"(Doyle) stood out to me and he stood out to every body here," said Fowler, referring to the cheers of the approximately 1,500 fans in attendance any time the young quarterback scrambled for good yardage.
The Evant native wasn't as impressive throwing the ball, going 4-9 for 32 yards on the afternoon.
QB Jake Fenske also moved the offense well on one drive, completing a 29-yard pass to Clifton Rhodes, followed by a screen to Jerod Cochran that netted 34 yards to the defense's two-yard-line. Fenske snuck behind the right guard for a touchdown two plays later.
Rhodes had a pair of big receptions and also laid a massive open-field block that drew loud cheers and sprung Doyle for a 10-yard run.
Kevin Adkins also had a pair of catches for the Texans, as did Charles Stermer.
Running back Evan Robertson, arguably Tarleton's most dangerous offensive player, participated only in the four-minute drill, but was impressive with six carries for 40 yards. He slipped through a narrow hole, cut back to his left and sprinted away for a 26-yard touchdown.
"That was a great run," Fowler said. "He found a way to make something big happen when there was nothing there. We know what he can do and that's why we didn't have him keep running the ball once the scrimmage started."
Just like in the Texans' second scrimmage eight days prior to the spring game, Rafael Sneed proved to be efficient in Robertson's absence. The redshirt freshman from Fort Worth Western Hills carried the ball six times for 39 yards during the live scrimmage.
Defensively, Matt Knicky reminded everyone watching why he led the team in tackles last year. Among his big plays were a fumble recovery and an open field tackle to limit a screen play to two yards when he was the only defender within 10 yards of the running back.
"At one point I told the defense I wanted to see somebody besides Matt Knicky make a play," Fowler said with a chuckle.
So someone did.
Jason Billings, a defensive lineman who converted from the offensive line, and defensive end Logan Johnson made two of a handful of sacks, and safety Terrence Henry blew up several plays, including one where he sniffed out a tight end screen and dropped the receiver for a loss of eight yards.
Henry comes with a solid pedigree of success, having played his high school ball at state and national powerhouse Katy before winning a junior college national title at Blinn College.
"(Henry) is a big-time football player," Fowler. "We're going to see great things out of him the next two years."
As Fowler's comments on the scrimmage reached their conclusion, he paused, took a deep breath, and offered a statement of closure for all his team had been through in the spring.
"We grew as a team, we mourned as a team and we learned to love as a team," Fowler said. "I think we have something special here. Our kids didn't have to bounce back (from teammate Zach Shaver's death) like this, but they did. They bounced back because of their togetherness."