WATSON -- Live Oak showed off an experienced defense and an inconsistent offense, but both had their converse moments in a scrimmage on Saturday against East Ascension to wrap up spring practice.
At times, the Eagles’ offense showed flashes of good play while the defense had its lapses.
East Ascension outscored Live Oak 14-7. The Spartans turned a medium-range pass into a long touchdown play and they also converted a Live Oak fumble into a short scoring drive.
There were no kickoffs or punts in the scrimmage, and all of the scoring came in the second part of the scrimmage in two timed quarters. The first part was structured with the teams alternating offensive possessions with limited plays.
Live Oak, which scored its touchdown on Jordan Lee’s interception return, outgained East Ascension 309 yards to 250, but lost two fumbles.
“Defensively, we flew around the ball,” Live Oak coach Brett Beard said. “We saw some guys play faster than we’ve seen them, and that’s always exciting. When the live bullets are flying, you want to see them playing fast and with an attitude.”
Offensively, Beard was most impressed by a drive where the Eagles didn’t reach the end zone. The drive, which featured first-team offensive and defensive units, came during the opening session and ended after Live Oak had run 12 plays.
The Eagles started at the LOHS 30, and picked up three first downs. Highlights included quarterback Sal Palermo’s 11-yard completion to Bryson Snapp and Gabe Schenk’s 18-yard run with an option pitch. The drive was halted with Live Oak facing a fourth-and-short yardage inside the East Ascension 10-yard-line.
“I thought that second (drive), offensively, the work was as good as we’ve done in almost the last two years,” Beard said. “I thought it was really good. It was flawless. We would have finished the drive if we had the chance.”
Live Oak struggled to match that efficiency later in the scrimmage.
“The problem is that’s kind of who we are offensively,” Beard said. “We’ll be very bad, very bad and good. Then very bad, very bad and good. We’re putting ourselves behind the 8-ball kind of like we did last year. We’ve got to be more consistent on offense.”
The quarterback position, where the Eagles must replace graduated two-year starter Ryan Morris, will be a key to finding that consistency. Beard describes the competition as a three-headed monster featuring Palermo, Schenk and Cameron Dickerson.
All three played Saturday, but Palermo saw the most time.
“We’ve got a good battle going, but if we played a real game today then Palermo is our No. 1 right now,” Beard said. “But live bullets changes everything. This is what we needed, to see those guys in the fire and see how they responded to it.”
Palermo completed 4-of-8 passes for 85 yards with two interceptions. He gained 16 yards on seven rushes not including three sacks.
Schenk didn’t attempt a pass and also split time at running back. He had four carries for 33 yards. Dickerson rushed five times for 24 yards, and completed his only pass for 5 yards.
“We kind of struggled a little bit,” Palermo said. “We didn’t put it all together at times, but on the second drive we did. We took it down the field and just ran out of plays. I think we’ll get work in over the summer and we’ll get better.”
Lee’s touchdown was the big play for a defense that gave East Ascension problems for most of the scrimmage. Late in the first quarter, Lee stepped in front of Jason Wakefield’s pass intended for Shaivonn Robinson, and ran up the right sideline 33 yards for the score.
“I read the play,” Lee said. “He ran a 5-yard out and I jumped it. I was happy to be in that position. It was exciting.”
Nathan Holliday’s kick made it 7-0, but two plays later Wakefield found Thomas Levy on a 20-yard crossing pattern. Levy turned upfield and outran the Live Oak secondary for an 85-yard score.
“These are all teachable moments, those coaching points that we’ve got to have,”Beard said. “When you score a defensive touchdown you should win the ballgame. But when you score those points, you’re not going to win the game if you flip it around and relax.”
In the second quarter, East Ascension forced a fumble with 8 minutes left. After penetrating the backfield, a Spartans defensive linemen deflected Palermo’s option pitch and recovered it at the Live Oak 17.
From there, it took East Ascension five plays to score. The final yard came on a quarterback sneak by Cameron Schexnaildre.
Coming on the heels of a turnover, more important than the score itself, the touchdown underscored that Live Oak has lessons to learn.
“We’ve got a great group of young men that are eager to get back to work, that are going to fight and continue to give us what we need,” Beard said. “I really am excited where we’re at. We just need to continue cleaning up some things.”
EAST ASCENSION 14, LIVE OAK 7
East Ascension 7 7 -- 14
Live Oak 7 0 -- 7
LO -- Jordan Lee 33 interception return (Nathan Holliday kick)
EA -- Thomas Levy 85 pass from Jason Wakefield (Ryan Gremillion kick)
EA -- Cameron Schexnaildre 1 run (Gremillion kick)
First downs 9 17
Rushes-yards 33-27 58-206
Passing yards 223 103
Passes 17-29-1 6-10-2
Total yards 250 309
Fumbles-lost 0-0 3-2
Penalties-yards 6-45 5-32