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Big plays highlight Air Force's extended scrimmage at Falcon Stadium

March 18, 2017 Updated: March 19, 2017 at 1:56 pm
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Quarterback Miller Mosley runs through a drill during spring practice Thursday, March 2, 2017, at Air Force Academy. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Arion Worthman turned the corner and raced about 50 yards for a touchdown on a sun-drenched Saturday at Falcon Stadium.

The quarterback's scamper came on the third of roughly 140 plays in an extended scrimmage and set a tone for a day filled with big plays on both sides that the coaches intend to use as teaching moments.

"There were a good number of mistakes, but there was really, really good hustle and great, great effort," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. "And we played a ton of football."

Worthman's long run was even more impressive when considering he was wearing a black jersey, indicating he was not to be tackled. If a defender approached the junior-to-be or senior Nate Romine, the whistle blew. For Worthman to go that far for a score speaks both to his ability to hit an opening and the size of the hole created by his teammates.

Other big plays came from freshman tailback Joseph Saucier - who went about 40 yards on a swing pass and later scored against the No. 1 defense on a 25-yard run as he continues to mimic the spring performance of Jacobi Owens from three years ago that propelled him to a starting role - as well as receivers Geraud Sanders (leaping catch at the goal line), Marcus Bennett and Ben Waters and a host of highlights in extended time for freshman quarterbacks Isaiah Sanders and Miller Mosley.

"Any live rep you get is valuable, especially against our offense," defensive tackle Santo Coppola said. "They're so good, so fast. They run the triple (option) so well that when we get to go live against them there's nothing like it. You get to see one of the best offenses in the country."

The defense managed its share of big plays, too. Freshman cornerback Zane Lewis jumped a route for a pick-six on a pass thrown by Romine. Safety Chandler Claterbaugh later did the same on a pass from Sanders. Safety Kyle Floyd laid a crunching hit on Mosley on a blitz, freshman cornerback Eric Ward hit Sanders on a blitz and second-team linebacker Brody Bagnall separated starting tight end Ryan Reffitt from the ball with a big hit in pass coverage.

Other notes from Saturday's scrimmage .

Defense has its moments

The Falcons' defense has experienced its share of growing pains in a rebuilding spring, but there were moments in Saturday's scrimmage when the unit was paired with lower offensive groups that it made big plays, celebrated and in general looked like it was gaining swagger.

Calhoun said the pairings were by design as three distinct defensive packages were being taught. And, by the way, he doesn't like the term "swagger."

"I don't believe in swagger," he said. "I think it's talk and it's poppycock. We believe in real confidence and we want guys who are going to play with great enthusiasm, great heart."

Those plays included a bull rush from 300-pound nose guard Mosese Fifita and Floyd's big hit on Mosley.

"Those kids are hungry," said Coppola, who along with linebacker Grant Ross provides the only extended experience on the defense. Then he added a jab at his large teammate up front. "Especially Fifita."

No. 3 quarterback battle takes center stage

The majority of quarterback snaps went to freshmen Sanders and Mosley, whose battle at the position behind Worthman and Romine has been among the most interesting developments of spring practice.

Both effectively moved the chains Saturday, but turnovers were also an issue.

"These guys are going to grow big-time from this experience, speaking of Isaiah and Miller," Calhoun said. "Being able to be out here and getting a bunch of live reps and knowing there are going to be some consequences sometimes if I don't make the right check or right read. It's good for them, that's part of the growth that occurs for college football players."

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