The competitive battle that was waged all spring for the chance to back up Eastern Washington University’s starting quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell next fall was not decided during the Eagles’ annual Red-White Game at Roos Field on Saturday.
But it seems safe to say that none of the three involved – Anthony Vitto, Greg Panelli and Nick Gauthier – did any major damage to their chances during a spirited matchup that was called after three quarters with the Red team leading 28-14.
Vitto, who was listed as Mitchell’s backup throughout most of last year’s march to the NCAA Division I Football Championship, had the toughest day, completing just 8 of 18 passes for 85 yards for the losing White team while throwing two interceptions.
But Panelli, who backed up Vitto on the White, and Gauthier, who backed up Mitchell on the Red, were both stellar.
Panelli, a 6-foot-3, 225-pounder and first-year junior college transfer who redshirted last fall, had his first pass picked off and returned 40 yards for a touchdown by Shane Stagg.
But Panelli settled in after that and completed eight of his next 12 passes for 87 yards and a 9-yard scoring toss to Nicholas Edwards.
Gauthier didn’t get as many reps playing behind Mitchell, but he still managed to connect on 5 of 9 passes – including a 70-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Johnson – for 104 yards.
“Vitto, Gauthier and Panelli all threw well,” said Mitchell, a senior-to-be, who directed one 90-yard scoring drive and finished the day 9 for 20 for 95 yards. “They all came out here and ran the offense well – they were generals.
“They ran the ball well, competed hard and threw some great balls. I feel like if I go down, any one of those guys can step in at that position.”
Panelli said he made a read mistake on his first throw,
“But after that, things kind of shaped up,” he said. “I don’t think any of us three hurt ourselves today. It’s been a fun competition all spring”
There has also been some heated competition for the two cornerback spots vacated by Jesse Hoffmann and Dante Calcote at the end of the Eagles’ 2010 season.
But a couple of those involved had big days.
Sophomore-to-be T.J. Lee was sensational, getting involved in six tackles – including two sacks – for the Red team while also making a terrific over-the-shoulder interception.
“I didn’t see a pick like that all last fall,” Mitchell said.
Alden Gibbs also did well, finishing with six tackles and a sack.
“It felt pretty good,” Lee said of his performance. “When I was recruited, Coach told me I would get the opportunity to make big plays. Jesse and Dante taught me how to play the position since Day One. They told me I would be next.
“Hopefully, I’ll be like them, and have the chance next season.”
Eagles head coach Beau Baldwin said he was pleased with the way game turned out.
“It was a real competitive environment,” he said. “I’d rather break up the starting lineups and play this type of game, and not have the potential of a 35-0 game by playing starters versus backups.”
Following the game, which marked the end of spring drills, the Eagles were presented the championship rings they earned last fall.