KOCH: Trail, Pasley & Thomas Lead Team To 22-6 Spring Game WIn
April 14, 2017

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By Bill Koch
GoBearcats.com

CINCINNATI -- When he heard the news earlier this week that University of Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell had declared Hayden Moore the early leader in the competition for the starting quarterback job, Ross Trail figured the best approach he could take was to ignore it.

"I just can't get wrapped up in that," Trail said. "I've just got to play my game and not worry about that. If I play my game and do as well as I can, everything will take care of itself."

Trail played his game Friday night in the spring game that marks the official end of spring practice, completing 15 of 30 passes for 186 yards without an interception. He also ran 35 yards for a touchdown to lead his Black team to a 22-6 victory over Moore's Red team at Nippert Stadium before a crowd estimated by UC officials at more than 7,000.

Participating sponsors for the 2017 spring football game included: NISSAN, Hearing Solutions, Mr. Roof, Megabus, Amazon, Noodles & Company and Two Men & A Truck.

As the players and coaches milled around on the field after the game Trail said he believed his performance helped his cause as the competition moves into fall camp late this summer.

"I do," he said. "I mean, I took care of the ball tonight. I moved the ball. I can't help but think I can help the team, but I just can't worry about that right now. I have to just take care of my game."

Fickell certainly noticed.

"It was good to see Ross go out there," Fickell said, "not just the way he threw the ball, but the way he commanded himself, the way he led, the way he took charge. I was really happy to see it."

Moore was not nearly as impressive statistically. He was 13 for 32 for 156 yards and was intercepted twice. But Fickell was quick to point out that Moore was operating at a disadvantage.

"Hayden had an offense where (starting running back) Mike Boone is in there, but there was a stipulation that Mike's not allowed to run the football," Fickell said. "It only took about a half a series for the defensive guys to figure out that when Mike's in there, there's no running play."

On the other side, Trail benefited from the presence of redshirt freshman running back Gerrid Doaks, who operated under no such limitations. Doaks carried 15 times for 61 yards to make his own positive impression on the UC coach. He also caught five passes for 35 yards.

"We missed him throughout the spring," Fickell said. "This is his first day back since he pulled a hamstring three weeks ago. He can definitely be a one-two punch with Mike."

Asked if Boone would be the dominant back or if he would alternate the two, Fickell said, "If they're both really good, we'll find a way to get both of them on the field."

Redshirt freshman quarterback Jake Sopko was 8-for-14 for 109 yards and one touchdown with 2 interceptions.

Defensively, the Bearcats were led by junior cornerback Alex Thomas, who picked off two passes. That was only part of what Fickell liked about his defense.

"We can be pretty good and it all starts up front," said Fickell, the former defensive coordinator at Ohio State.  "There's eight or nine guys up front that can play and if we can find a way to have those guys play relentless football, they only have to play 40 snaps a game. I think we can create a lot of havoc."

When he broke down film of last year's games, Fickell said he was struck by the number of tackles the Bearcats missed.

"The biggest glaring thing for me is that they tackle a hell of a lot better," he said. "If we can be a great tackling football team, we've got an opportunity to be good. The average of missing 11 or 12 tackles a game is not going to be helpful. You're not going to be successful because of that."

Jaylyin Minor, who has assumed the middle linebacker spot in the absence of Eric Wilson, made nine tackles and defended a pass. Joel Dublanko made 10 tackles and Davin Pierce had eight. Curtis Brooks and Lyndon Johnson each had two sacks and Kimoni Fitz had one.

"Our defense overall is very good," Thomas said, "because last year we had linebackers that weren't  very experienced, but now they've got their experience and now you start to see them picking it up."

The most dazzling performance of the night belonged to walk-on kicker Josh Pasley, who made five field goals in five attempts, including one from 52 yards. Pasley made 11 of 17 field goal attempts last year, kicking in place of Andrew Gantz, who was out with an injury to his upper leg.

Gantz is close to 100 percent now and is expected to reclaim his job. He was available to kick Friday night for the Red team, but was limited to kicking from 25 yards or closer. As it turned out, the opportunity never arose.

"I think it's still his," Pasley said. "He's done so much since he's been here. We'll see what happens. I'll keep working hard and go from there."

That's exactly what Fickell wants to hear.

"All this does is create greater competition and makes guys work and practice," Fickell said. "That's what a game is. A game is competition. A game is a lot of heat on the line. It at least gives us options. It at least gives us things for guys to continue to push each other.

"I guess it's (Gantz's) job that he lost last year because he was hurt, but we're going to put the best player out there. We owe that to every game on this team. We owe that to this program. We owe this to the seniors. Whoever gives us the best opportunity to win, that's who we're going to put out there."

Bill Koch covered UC athletics for 27 years -- 15 at The Cincinnati Post and 12 at The Cincinnati Enquirer -- before joining the staff of GoBearcats.com in January, 2015.