EUGENE, Oregon — Team Free defeated Team Brave, 34-11, in the 2017 Oregon Spring Game from Autzen Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Head coach Willie Taggart now has this one under his belt. Justin Herbert wasted little time to find his 2016 rhythm with 327 passing yards and three touchdowns without an interception.
It was a picture perfect setting for the eighth special tribute to the state’s armed forces. Both teams represented in black and gray, highlighted by neon green. It was a spectacular sight for the spring, as 35,116 Duck fans attended. The Bi-Mart Spring Game presented by Pepsi culminated the program’s 15 spring practices.
The festivities commenced with a pair of Oregon Air National Guard F-15 Jets and Coast Guard Helicopters prior to kickoff.
Darren Carrington started the scoring with a 13-yard catch from Herbert. Team Free grabbed an early 7-0 lead and never looked back.
“I’m looking for more than just throwing touchdowns,” said Taggart. “I’m looking for a guy that can lead this football team. Someone they can rally around. Not just the offensive guys either, defense too. If we can find that guy, that’s who our starting quarterback will be.”
Arrion Springs made one of the more athletic plays you will see when he intercepted Travis Jonsen. Springs evolved more than most players this spring. I have been very impressed by his progression. The incredible turnover resulted in a touchdown for his unit on the very next possession.
“It was cool. Coach wanted us to bring the energy, so we did,” said Springs. “I feel like we’re getting better, but the coaches get on us daily. We’ll be ready to go.”
Following a Zach Emerson 36-yard field goal for Team Brave, Herbert and Carrington connected for a second time. The 30-yard frozen rope elevated the Free lead to 14-3 before halftime.
At the half, Oregon fans fell witness to the Alumni Flag Football Game. I will have a special extended piece on the alumni game later this weekend. Just know, there was a lot of heavy breathing and near-greatness. Regardless, it was amazing to see every one of them playing at Autzen Stadium on Saturday.
Royce Freeman rumbled in from two yards to place his team ahead 21-3 to open the second half. Each quarter was 12 minutes in length and the second half had a continual running clock.
The Oregon running game looked in peak regular season form from the start. Kani Benoit dashed 95 yards to the house for a 28-3 advantage over Team Brave. Benoit finished with 109 yards on five carries.
Tony Brooks-James scored from one yard out, cutting the deficit to 17 points, 28-11.
On the final drive of the game, Herbert led Team Free to a buzzer-beating score. As the clock hit zero, Herbert found Carrington in the end zone for the final points of the afternoon, 34-11. The players, coaches and fans alike erupted after the final play from scrimmage.
Carrington led all receivers with four catches for 116 yards and three TD’s. He had a long of 48 yards.
Freeman rushed the ball 12 times for 43 yards, including a score.
Herbert completed 16-of-26 passes for 327 yards and three tallies. He was sacked four times by the Team Brave defense. Yet, he escaped pressure to unleash his game-high 58-yard pass completion.
Travis Jonsen completed 5-of-15 passes for 86 yards, including one interception. The quarterback of Team Brave struggled at times, but was able to escape pressure, while being sacked just once. Jonsen carried the ball five times for seven total yards.
“They are all getting better,” Taggart stated. “I’ve been really impressed with the competition.”
Braxton Burmeister completed on 3-of-7 passes for 63 yards and an interception. He carried the ball 14 times for 57 rushing yards.
“It starts there with the quarterback,” Taggart said confidently. “It’s our job to teach them, train them.”
TBJ led the way for Team Brave with a team-high 86 yards on 24 carries. The rock-solid running back scored once, including a run of 17 yards. He caught three balls out of the backfield for 43 yards. In total, TBJ amassed 129 total yards on Saturday
Dillon Mitchell carried the Brave receivers with 75 yards on three grabs.
One of the biggest questions this camp, outside the obvious, was the punting competition. Both punters impressed on Saturday.
Blake Maimone had the longest average with 45.2 yards per punt. He booted four balls for a total of 181 yards. Maimone registered a long of 49 yards, alongside a touchback.
“They’re competing,” said Taggart. “The good thing about it is we don’t play until September.”
Adam Stack finished with a lower average total (42.5) per punt, but it seemed like he had better hang time through the air. He recorded a game-high 51-yard punt.
All 100 Oregon football players gave their jerseys to uniformed men and women representing all branches of military after the game.
Overall, it was a good spring game. It is hard to be impressed with a scrimmage, but Oregon football players showed signs of life that was not present last season. It was extremely uplifting to watch these players support one another.
“The difference between last year and this year is the energy,” said Matt Mariota.
On more than a few occasions, the entire bench cleared to congratulate a teammate who made a huge play. Prepare yourselves for a new era of Oregon football. This is just the start of something special.
If you missed the game or want to watch it again, you can tune into the Pac-12 Network all next month for the 2017 Oregon Spring Game replay.
Stay tuned to ATQ on Instagram @eugene_levys_eyebrows Twitter @TheQuackFiend