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WSU Football Spring Game 2

Winona State University's Sam Santiago-Lloyd (23) runs the ball during the WSU Spring Football game that took place Friday night at Altra Federal Credit Union Stadium.

Winona State football fans got their first taste of the 2019 squad at the annual spring game on Friday at Altra Federal Credit Union Stadium.

The defense won on the scoreboard 81-44 with the rules that offer points to both offense and defense for certain achievements. But there was a lot to like on both sides of the ball as players flashed with some spectacular plays and displayed their growth through the spring.

“The whole spring was really good,” Warriors coach Tom Sawyer said. “From first day to 15th day we really grew as a football team and we’re excited about it. We had a couple of injuries that hurt us but we’re getting guys back. We had a lot of young guys make plays. You saw how excited the team was about that.”

Perhaps the play of the spring game came on the first drive of the second half as quarterback Owen Burke rolled out to his left and threw a frozen rope down field to Jaylen Schleicher through a tight window on the left sideline.

“Owen Burke was special tonight,” Sawyer said. “He looks like the quarterback we hoped we would see. He is maturing and he was really dynamic. I made that one rolling to his left down here and that was a rope. We know it’s in there, but to see it consistently especially running that direction, that is special. He really played well.”

QBs John Rumpza and Brady Mundahl each made some special plays of their own. Mundahl played on the second drive and showed off his arm strength on a 40-yard pass down the right sideline to Keagan Maloney.

Rumpza led a pair of scoring drives, one ending with a Sam Santiago-Lloyd touchdown run and one with a beautiful pass to Tyler Knutson. Rumpza threaded the needle through a tight window on the touchdown and Knutson made an acrobatic grab to come down with it.

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Linebacker Charlie Dennis flashed all over the field, making tackles for loss, breaking up passes, and had a pick-6. He was waiting in the flat and read the throw from quarterback AJ Frisby perfectly before breaking and undercutting the pass and accelerating away from all would-be tacklers.

The defense closed out the game with a goal line stand. The line swallowed up a pair of inside rush attempts by Miguel Benjamin and Drew Becker. And then on third down Ryan Ford shot into the backfield and grabbed Benjamin for a loss of four yards.

“I think the team has jelled together,” Sawyer said. “We’re so young — especially the offensive and defensive lines — to see those guys work together. Really the last two weeks really grew with the young offensive line guys. We’ve got some young talent here on both sides of the ball that can run around and they made some plays.”

Many of the most experienced players were held out of the game as they try to keep the team healthy going into the fall. But the squad is loaded with returning talent.

The Warriors bring back six player who earned All-NSIC recognition last season in first-teamers offensive lineman Carter Berlin and corner Isaiah Hall, second-teamers safety Romario Gayle and linebacker Devon Moore, and honorable mentions defensive lineman Cole LaLiberty and running back Santiago-Lloyd. And they will also see the return of 2017 all-conference players linebacker Nick Pridgeon, receiver Jake Balliu, and defensive lineman Michael Gomez. Pridgeon, Balliu, and Gomez played a combined six games last season.

“Jake Balliu is healthy, he’s cleared,” Sawyer said. “Nick Pridgeon will be cleared by June 1. Gomez is cleared. We didn’t practice them all this spring, but they’re doing drills. And Cole LaLiberty is back. Landon Jacobson is back. We could go on and on and they’re all ready to go.”

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