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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

September 25, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Sports

Filling the void

Chants of “Let’s go machine” echoed the sidelines at Butterfield Stadium Saturday as the football team held a Blue and White scrimmage. One week before their first regular season home game against St. Lawrence University, the Bombers still needed to name a starting quarterback.

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Senior quarterback Rob Zappia, center, searches for a receiver at practice Aug. 18 at Allen Field. Zappia was named the starting quarterback for the season opener against St. Lawrence University on Saturday at Butterfield Stadium. MICHELLE BOULÉ/THE ITHACAN
During the first half, the first-team offense played the first-team defense. When the defense stopped the offense, special teams came on the field and punted to the second-team offense, which went up against the second-team defense.
The game wasn’t played for the teams to determine a winner, but more for Head Coach Mike Welch to get a better feel for his team and the holes that needed to be filled.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to see people in a live situation, which we don’t do a lot of in practice
anymore,” Welch said. “It’s good to see people in a game-type situation to see how people react and how people are … in terms of their development.”
One of the questions Welch was still trying to answer was who should be starting quarterback for the Bombers in their season opener.
By the end of the second quarter it was clear that senior quarterback Rob Zappia was playing better than sophomore Jason Hendel.
Completing his first two passing  attempts to senior wide receiver Tom Vossler, Zappia proceeded to then spread the ball around the rest of the field and later lead the offense on the only touchdown drive of the game.
“The scrimmage definitely helped,” Zappia said. “It would have been nice to go against another team, but we didn’t have that opportunity this year. But being able to work with the one-string offense together against the one-string defense is good to get our timing up and anything we need to work on.”
Welch said Zappia will start against St. Lawrence.
“Zappia did a real nice job at the quarterback position [in the scrimmage],” Welch said.
The scrimmage was also a way for Welch to see what he had to work with on defense. The team has a new defensive scheme this year, and Welch said team speed was one of the major factors that stood out.
“We were very quick to the ball and our tackling was good when they got opportunities to make plays,” Welch said. “We really pride ourselves in creating turnovers. They did a good job with interceptions.”
Three interceptions came in the first half. Hendel threw a pair and Zappia had another picked right before halftime. Graduate student strong safety Dave Ahonen, sophomore strong safety Allen Fessette and junior cornerback Mike Conti each had an interception.
Conti said it’s the mentality of the secondary this season that is going to help generate more interceptions.
“When the ball’s in the air as a defender it’s just as much your ball as it is the offense’s,” Conti said. “You need to go up and make the play and get it. You become the receiver.”
Along with the pass defense, the team’s run defense stopped the running backs on several occasions. Welch said there were good runs from freshman running back Jared Prugar.
Preparing for the team’s opener, Conti said the squad will look to carry the momentum from the scrimmage into the season.
“Getting into a game-like atmosphere is always beneficial,” he said. “Not just defensively, but for our team as a whole. … It definitely helps us to focus in more and really strive to do as well as we possibly can.”