For the most part, a preseason scrimmage shows football coaches what their team needs to work on to be ready when the contests start counting.
Pepperell head coach Rick Hurst saw some need for improvement in certain areas during the Dragons’ scrimmage with Temple on Friday night, but he also saw plenty to be excited about for the 2019 season.
Highlighted by the efforts of the defensive line, including defensive end Tyler Liggons, as well as linebacker Will Helton, Pepperell stymied Temple’s first-string offense in Dragon Stadium for much of the first half.
“That’s probably the most physical team from top to bottom we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Hurst said. “Anytime you’re a physical football team you give yourself a chance to win. It’s a physical game, so you’ve got to find 11 guys that want to fly around out there and put a hat on somebody, and that’s what we did.”
The Dragons’ defense held the visiting Tigers to only 58 yards of offense in the first half, most of which came on the drive just before halftime. Up to that point, Pepperell had held Temple to minus 2 yards of offense.
“We’ve gotten a lot faster,” Hurst said. “We’re not very big, but we can run. If we continue to be physical, we can fix the mental things. You can’t fix physicality. You either are or you’re not. I think we showed up in that aspect.”
Helton’s hard tackles and physicality also helped the Dragons keep the Tigers out of the end zone until early in the fourth quarter.
“Will is probably one of our most physical players,” Hurst said of the junior. “He plays soccer and he got a couple of red cards this spring. He’s always been a physical guy. If he catches you standing around the pile, he’s going to light you up.”
Pepperell’s offense showed some life as well as junior quarterback Gage Moses takes the reins for his second season as the Dragons’ starting signal caller. He hit senior wide receiver Payton Rhoades for a 20-yard pass in the end zone with just over three minutes left in the first half.
Rhoades also had a fumble recovery on the Tigers’ first drive of the game.
The Dragons were nearly perfect as far as penalties go, with only one recorded on the night. Hurst was glad to see his team’s work in the offseason pay off when it was time to get on the field.
“That’s what I’m proud of,” Hurst said. “We didn’t have a lot of bad snaps. That’s a good sign. We had a great summer. These kids worked really hard, and we’ve pushed them really hard in the weightroom and on the track, and that’s where you’re starting to see those dividends.”
Freshman defensive back Gage Owens had a fumble recovery on the Temple 30-yard line, setting up a 2-yard touchdown run by backup quarterback Shannen White in the second half.
“He’s going to be a great player,” Hurst said about Owens. “I’ve watched him since I’ve been here, and I knew he was going to shine when he gets the opportunity. I’m excited about what he can do for us in the future.”
Junior running back Tra Robinson had an impressive start in the scrimmage running in one of the Dragons’ four touchdowns on the night on a 70-yard run on the first play of the third quarter. Freshman D.J. Rogers had another long run to the end zone, going 80 yards a few minutes later.
“Tra is electric,” Hurst said. “He’s one of the fastest guys in the region. I knew that when gets a handoff and he gets a block or two he can make things happen, and he did tonight. I thought we got outside really well on them.”
The Dragons will get one more practice game when they host Class 5A Cass next Friday. Pepperell will then kick off the regular season Aug. 23 at Darlington.