Texas A&M didn’t settle on a starting quarterback during Saturday’s Maroon & White Game at Kyle Field, but whoever wins the job might have added a few weapons.
Sophomores Nick Starkel and Kellen Mond, last season’s starting quarterbacks, each had their moments in the White’s 30-24 victory, but it was the guys on the receiving end who created the most buzz among the 48,129 fans.
Tight end Jace Sternberger, a junior college transfer, had eight catches for 147 yards and two touchdowns. He earned noticeable applause when he hauled in a harmless 7-yard pass early in the game, because the Aggies seldom threw to the tight ends the last four years under former coach Kevin Sumlin. But his successor, Jimbo Fisher, believes tight ends should be an integral part of the offense. He proved it big time when Sternberger made his eighth catch of the day, a 65-yard touchdown catch from Starkel to tie the game at 24 with 3 minutes, 2 seconds left in the game.
But Sternberger’s 147-yard, two-touchdown effort was trumped by the catch of the day from sophomore wide receiver Kendrick Rogers. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Rogers made an acrobatic 32-yard catch to get the White in scoring position, then added a 4-yard touchdown grab with 39 seconds left.
Rogers had eight catches for 90 yards, capped by his leaping catch that he held onto as he hit the turf. He had only 11 for 99 yards all last season.
“Kendrick is such a big body when those big-body guys can make plays even when they’re covered going over people,” Fisher said. “And I hope it builds his confidence ‘cause I think he has a chance to be a really good player for us, and we need him to be.”
A&M has to replace wide receiver Christian Kirk, a potential first-round pick in the NFL Draft, who had 71 catches last season for 919 yards and 10 touchdowns.
A&M returns its second-leading receiver in sophomore Jhamon Ausbon (50 catches-571 yards, 3 TDs), who on Saturday had six catches for 124 yards for the Maroon, earning praise from Fisher along with four other sophomores — Camron Buckley (5-65, TD for the White), Roshauud Paul (4-34 for the Maroon), Klyde Chriss (3-24 for the White) and Hezekiah Jones (2-24 for the White).
“We’re improving [at wide receiver], we [just] gotta get better,” Fisher said.
Those receivers, along with Sternberger, helped the quarterbacks throw for more than 500 yards. Starkel, who started five games last season, completed 26 of 42 for 373 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Mond, who started eight games last season, completed 19 of 26 for 180 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
“We’re not ready to name a starter at all,” Fisher said. “There’s no way that we can name a starter as yet, it’s too early. Both of them haven’t had enough work [in the new offense].”
Quarterback play helped make for an exciting ending.
Rogers’ catch gave the White the lead for good, but the Maroon, which had wiped out a 24-10 deficit, had a chance to win late because defensive lineman Ondario Robinson blocked the White’s extra point by Drew Riethman.
In 39 seconds, Starkel moved his team 41 yards on four completions, but his final pass from the White 24 intended for Sternberger was broken up by sophomore safety Derrick Tucker.
“I was very proud of both teams,” Fisher said. “One, for not panicking for getting behind and then when they came back to tie it up, the other team for not panicking, saying, ‘OK, I’m going to execute and go down and make a play to win.”
The Maroon had a 524-336 edge in total yardage, but was hurt by two turnovers. The Maroon also was only 4 of 12 on third downs, while the White was 7 of 16.
The Maroon squandered the game’s first scoring chance when senior running back Trayveon Williams couldn’t handle Starkel’s pitch. White sophomore linebacker Buddy Johnson recovered at the White 14. On the previous play, Ausbon had a 58-yard catch-and-run to the White 8. The White defense made a late substitution on third-and-13, and it seemed as if some players thought the play had been blown dead as Ausbon got open down the middle.
The Maroon did score the next time it got the ball as Sternberger had an 11-yard catch from Starkel with 3:19 left in the first quarter.
The White was able to get a touchdown before a first down as junior defensive back Roney Elam cut in front of Sternberger for an interception, returning it 17 yards to the Maroon 4. Sophomore tight end Ryan Renick, a transfer from Kansas who played at Iola High School, caught a touchdown on the next play to tie the game.
“Those two [turnovers] when you look back on it, probably cost the Maroon team as much as anything in the game,” Fisher said.
The White took a 14-7 lead on a 55-yard touchdown run by senior Kwame Etwi with 9:39 left in the second quarter. The Maroon’s Daniel LaCamera hit a 30-yard field goal with 3:16 left in the half. The 14-10 score held until the half as LaCamera missed a 60-yard attempt on the final play caught and playfully returned by former quarterback and 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, who was waiting to take part in the alumni halftime flag football game.
The White dominated the start of the second half, which featured a running clock, scoring on its first two possessions for a 24-10 lead. Buckley caught a 26-yard touchdown pass down the middle to cap a nine-play, 75-yard drive. Riethman added a 37-yard field goal to end an 11-play, 51-yard drive. The scores were sandwiched by two Maroon incompletions and a sack of Starkel.
The Maroon scored early in the fourth quarter on a 20-yard catch by sophomore running back John Clark from redshirt freshman Connor Blumrick.
“At the end, I thought guys made plays to win the game instead of not making plays and [having] somebody winning by default,” Fisher said.
NOTES — Sternberger was named the team MVP for the 15 spring drills. Other awards given by the coaches were Offensive Most Improved Player, junior offensive lineman Colton Prater; Defensive Most Improved Player, junior defensive lineman Micheal Clemons; Special Teams MVP, junior kicker Braden Mann; Offensive MVP, senior running back Trayveon Williams; and Defensive MVP, sophomore defensive lineman Justin Madubuike. Community Service Award winners were sophomore defensive back Keldrick Carper, sophomore wide receiver Klyde Chriss, junior linebacker Tyrel Dodson, junior running back Kendall Bussey and junior defensive back Kemah Siverand. Top Academic Award winners were sophomore offensive lineman Dan Moore Jr.; Carper; sophomore linebacker Keeath Magee, junior center Erik McCoy and Mann. ... The crowd topped the 45,212 that attended the 2013 spring game, which was Manziel’s last season.