Sophomore CJ Thompson proved to be the perfect target from the tight end position for sophomore quarterback Tyler Kulka on Saturday during the Second Annual Blue-White Spring Game at Farmington Hills Harrison. Kulka and Thompson's Blue Team (Offense) took down the White Team (Defense), 65-20, using an alternate scoring system.
Thompson, who made the switch to tight end from defense last offseason, was a favorite target of Kulka's all game, but as the Blue Team held a slim 28-21 margin early in the third quarter because of an interception by White's Eric Winston the previous possession, the duo sparked a second-half offensive surge with a 45-yard connection down the middle of the field. The play continued a strong series for the Blue Team that eventually led to a 1-yard plunge by sophomore running back Mekai Otero for the Touchdown.
"I was excited to get him from defense to offense," head coach Jeff Duvendeck said. "(Thompson) was a little reluctant at first, but I told him he could be a really good tight end, and his goal when he came over was to start. When I started to work with him, he started to realize his goal is to be the best in the nation, and I think we're going to get him there.
"He's got the body size, gotta get him some confidence that he can block, he's a strong kid. He's a big target with soft hands."
Thompson, a 6-4 native of Alma, Mich. finished the game with four catches, 75 yards, and a score, while Kulka was equally effective from the pocket. The second-year quarterback from Clinton Township, Mich. finished 10-for-13 passing with 181 yards, two touchdowns (1 Pass/1 Rush), and 21 yards on four rushes, and a score. Sophomore receiver Kendyl Williams also was a big target for Kulka and sophomore quarterback Tanner Jeska. Williams came down with three catches for 71 yards in the contest, including a highlight-reel catch down the sideline.
Pacing the run game for the Blue Team was Otero, who was the lone running back in action Saturday due to injuries on the depth chart. Otero found the endzone once and led all Blue Devils with 54 rushing yards. The Blue Team finished with 116 rushing yards on 34 attempts and the two scores.
"Being a workhorse is nothing I wasn't used to," Otero said. "It's just being there for your team, I wasn't thinking about being tired, I wasn't thinking about none of that. I just wanted to be there for my team and put on a show for everybody, and I felt amazing."
Despite the score, the White Team made plenty of primetime defensive plays and were led by standout efforts from sophomore defensive lineman Matt Esterle and sophomore defensive back Eric Winston. Esterle pressured the Blue Team all day long finishing with five total tackles, including two sacks and 3.5 tackles for a loss. Winston, along with sophomore defensive back Jalen Smith, finished the game with an interception. Winston also finished with four tackles.
Sophomore Sulaiman Shajrah led the defense with six total tackles.
"I thought the execution today was phenomenal," Duvendeck said. "I thought we blocked and tackled well. We came up with a couple of big turnovers on defense, a couple of big scores on offense. I thought our responses to adversity were really good. Great to see them get out here and compete."
Now that the spring season is in the books, the Blue Devils will resume their weight lifting regiment in a month, followed by the opening of training camp in late July.
Following the game, the team held its annual banquet where individual honors were presented by Duvendeck. The honors were:
Courage - James Thorpe
Scout Special Teams - Dayton Siewert
Scout Team Defense - Nick Ryan
Scout Team Offense - Tanner Jeska
Most Improved - Emmanuel Ifeosame
Empathy - Will Stertz
Competitor - Tommy Lappin
Grit - Tommy Lappin
Hard Hat - Tommy Lappin