Winona State football: Warriors show what they can do in annual spring game
After 14 spring practices, the Winona State football team finally got a chance to show off in front of a crowd at its annual spring game on Saturday at Altra Federal Credit Union Stadium.
And, the Warriors didn’t waste any time.
Sophomore defensive back Isaiah Hall kicked the game off with flair, taking the opening kickoff to the end zone. He got a seam up the middle, made one cut and outran the defenders down the right sideline
Hall’s return was just one flash that showed the Warriors look like the team that went 10-2 last fall and hosted an NCAA Division II Playoff game against eventual national champion Texas A&M-Commerce.
“You saw our football team in a nutshell,” WSU coach Tom Sawyer said. “We opened opened up with a kickoff return for a touchdown with those fast kids. You saw that from the get go. We have great team speed.”
The offense looked sharp early in the practice and the defense responded taking control as it wore on and won the game 41-28 according to the spring game’s scoring system. The players were happy to put on a show in front of a receptive crowd.
“It’s definitely a lot more exciting, there’s a lot more energy and a lot more people here for the spring game,” junior cornerback Cole Monckton said. “Everybody comes to play and to be able to make plays in a game like this where everybody’s playing hard, it’s fun.”
Monckton was all over the field during the spring game with two blocked field goals, a tipped pass that set up an interception, and an interception of his own in one-on-one drills. The Arlington Heights, Ill. native stood out last year on a defense that was second in the nation in interceptions and he has stepped up into a leadership role in the defensive backfield.
“A lot of our leaders left that were seniors,” Monckton said. “I’m the next guy that has to step up and be more vocal with my group — the defensive backs — and try to help them out, make sure they’re in the right place and hustling to the ball land doing what they need to do.
“I’m the oldest guy with the most experience in my position group. So they’re looking up to me to put them in the right direction and show them how it’s done.”
NEW QB: For the second year in a row, the Warriors will have a new starting quarterback after last year’s starter Darren Beenken graduated.
If the season started this week, 6-foot-3 sophomore Owen Burke from Denver, Colorado, would be the starter after starting three games last season as a redshirt freshman when Beenken was out with injury. He totaled 300 yards and four touchdowns with four interceptions last season.
He started the spring game strong, leading the offense to a touchdown on its first drive. He was a perfect 2-for-2 on the drive including a 7-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Greg Rooney. Burke fake a handoff and bootlegged left before throwing to Rooney in the middle of the end zone.
“You saw Owen Burke come out and throw it around at the beginning,” Sawyer said. “Our offense was clicking early.”
But it’s not Burke’s job yet. Redshirt freshman Jace LaBuda and junior John Rumpza are both in the running and each of them had highlights of their own.
Rumpza struggled early, throwing an interception to Justin Gross on his second pass attempt, but he improved as the practice wore on. He led a long drive in the second half, flashing scrambling ability and some good decision making. He converted a fourth-and-8 with a checkdown to running back Javian Roebuck that gained 10 yards. And then showed off his wheels by outrunning defensive lineman who put pressure on him from the right side and scrambling left for a gain of 8.
LaBuda showed off his arm with a 65-yard touchdown pass to Mike Stejskal on his first pass attempt of the game and fit a handful of other passes into tight windows with velocity.
“I thought John Rumpza who went through some things this winter looked great,” Sawyer said. “And I thought Jace LaBuda, a freshman from Menomenie, Wis, he came in and did a nice job in the time period.”
WORK-A-THON: On Sunday morning the Warriors are putting in 300 hours of community service as they walk the streets of Winona from Olmstead Street to Hamilton Street picking up garbage.
In conjunction with the work-a-thon, they did a fundraiser on givecampus.com and raised $8,555 for supplies for the team such as protein and nutritional supplements and equipment for the locker room.
“It’s a way for us to say thank you to the community for supporting us,” Sawyer said. “It’s 300 hours of community service because it’ll take us about three hours. We’re happy to do that and partner with Winona Parks and Rec.”