Just when Eastern Washington University’s crowded quarterback situation looked like it had all but cleared up, sophomore wide receiver Greg Herd decided to get involved.
But only for one play.
Herd, a former high school quarterback, connected with Zack Gehring on a 20-yard touchdown pass off a wide receiver reverse to provide the biggest highlight in EWU’s annual Red-White Game, which played out at Woodward Field on a brilliant but blustery Saturday afternoon.
Herd’s wobbly left-handed toss, which rode the jet stream into Gehring’s hands near the back left corner of the end zone late in the third and final period, dropped the curtain on the Red’s 20-0 victory.
And it also pumped up the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Herd, a former standout at Steilacoom High School near Tacoma.
“It was exciting to be back there throwing the ball again,” he said. “I played with (Gehring, a tight end from Castle Rock) in the All-State Game, and the chemistry came back for that five seconds. The wind took the pass a little, but Zack made the catch like a true athlete.
“I was proud of him.”
Any thoughts Herd might have had of moving back under center were short-circuited by Beau Baldwin, the Eagles’ third-year head coach, immediately after the game ended.
“He made a couple of nice catches out there today, too,” Baldwin said of Herd, “so I think we’ve got him in the right position.”
It was one of those catches that further solidified Bo Levi Mitchell’s grasp on the Eagles’ starting quarterback job, which was left vacant by the graduation of Matt Nichols.
On the first play of the day, Mitchell hooked up with Herd on a fly pattern down the left sideline that resulted in a 61-yard gain that set up Mitchell’s 8-yard touchdown run just two plays later. Herd later put the Red team up 13-0 by hauling in a 28-yard second-period scoring pass from junior quarterback Greg Panelli.
Mitchell, who quarterbacked only the first two possessions for the Red team, completed just 3 of 7 passes for 78 yards. He was hampered not only by the windy conditions but the absence of his two favorite receivers – Brandon Kaufman and Nicholas Edwards – who both played for the White team.
Baldwin’s decision to divide into evenly matched teams and keep the conditions as game-like as possible didn’t do much for the quality of play, but it seemed to make the Red-White Game much more enjoyable and competitive for the players.
“I worried about some of the sloppiness whenever you break up units,” Baldwin said. “Early on, there was a little bit of that. But on the positive side, what we got out of it was competitiveness that we haven’t had here with the spring game lately.
“When you just play offense versus defense, it feels like a glorified practice. But since Wednesday, when we announced the teams, they (the players) were excited and jacked up to play a game. And that part of it, I love.”
When asked about the quarterback situation, Baldwin stopped short again of officially naming Mitchell as his starter, but he gave every indication the 6-2, 210-pound junior-to-be and first-year transfer from Southern Methodist University will be his man.
“We still have three more days of spring practice, but if we were to play tomorrow, Bo would be our starter,” Baldwin said. “We’ll let the last three practices play themselves out.”
Baldwin added that he has no intention of going into the offseason without naming Nichols’ successor.
“And Bo has been playing with the (starters) during every practice,” he said. “So you can read between the lines if you want.”
Among the other four quarterbacks who played on Saturday, Panelli finished with the best numbers, completing 4 of 6 passes for 52 yards and a touchdown. Scott Burgett was 3 for 3 for 35 yards; Nick Gauthier was 3 for 9 for 56 yards; and Anthony Vitto was 5 for 11 for 38 yards.
But none could match the efficiency of Herd.