Sunday, April 2, 2017

Raeburn pleased with team’s performance at SSU spring game

SAVANNAH, Georgia -- There was a lot to scrutinize Saturday morning, but from his vantage point on the sidelines, Savannah State football coach Erik Raeburn saw a lot of good things during the Tigers' first spring game since 2014.

The final workout of the spring featured the SSU offense against the defense in an 82-play, 100-minute scrimmage. Raeburn said both units had their moments to shine on the pristine day.

The offense produced 302 yards and six touchdowns. The defense recorded six sacks and limited the running game to just 13 yards on 42 attempts.

And special teams were genuinely special, led by Giovanni Lugo's 47.3-yard punting average and his 4-for-4 placekicking, which included a 52-yard field goal.

"I thought (the spring game) went well," Raeburn said. "We've had good practices, but it's good to get in game situations and have officials."

Rising sophomore quarterbacks TJ Bell and Blake Dever, who shared time last season, showed little separation and will go into the fall still battling for the starting job.

Both completed 11 of 17 passes and each had one touchdown pass. Bell threw for 120 yards. Dever had 107.

"They made very few mistakes," Raeburn said. "A couple of times receivers busted routes on them and we had some protection issues, but I thought they played very well."

Dever made some plays early in the scrimmage, completing a 26-yarder to Cameron White and a 19-yarder to Deric Wright on consecutive plays.

In a scripted goal-line situation, the Palm Beach, Fla., native teamed with Charles Barnes III on a 4-yard touchdown toss.

"Leadership is one component, maybe the biggest (toward earning the starting position)," Dever said. "You want to show you can lead on the field."

Bell accounted for the team's first touchdown, a 20-yard pass to Tino Smith, who broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage before diving into the end zone.

"It's two-hand touch (on the quarterbacks) so I can't show fully what I can do, but I think passing-wise I did OK," said Bell, the greater running threat of the two quarterbacks.

Backup quarterback David Handler threw TD passes of 26 yards and 13 yards to Deandre Vickers and Geonte Smith during the final three series of the day.
Wide receiver Derek Kirkland scored on a nine-yard run on a jet sweep during a scripted goal-line play. Running back Nicholas Bentley powered in from the six on another goal-line play.

Raeburn said freshmen offensive linemen Jacob Martin and Michael Johnson played well. Both were mid-year transfers from Fork Union Military Academy.

Defensively, end Stephen Banks, a second-team All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference performer last season, stood out with a team-leading six tackles and two sacks.

Edward Goubadia added two sacks and three tackles. Goubadia hopes to win the other end spot in the 4-3 alignment vacated by first-team All-MEAC performer Marquis Smith, who finished his eligibility last season.

Raeburn said moving free safety Donald Rutledge into the starting lineup, freeing Isaiah Bennett to strong safety, seemed to work well.
Bennett had an interception, but it was negated by a penalty.

On special teams, Lugo is heir apparent to replace first-team All-MEAC kicker John Barron, who finished his eligibility after leading the league in punting average last season.

Lugo, who transferred from Georgia State a year ago, started his day with a booming 50-yard punt. His last two punts both bounded inside the 20-yard line.

"After watching John do his thing last year, I was itching to go," Lugo said. "I'm very grateful for the opportunity. It's been a dream of mine to play in college and start."


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