The first scrimmage of preseason for the Pope John Paul II High School football team was cut short by lightning, but Knights head coach Justin Geisinger saw some positives in the abbreviated outing.
After a slow start on both sides of the ball, the Knights rebounded with a strong showing, scoring one touchdown while keeping both Nashville Christian School and West Creek High School out of the end zone.
“That’s what I was happy about, our kids responding,” Geisinger said.
With three teams participating in the scrimmage, the teams rotated with each team playing 10 offensive snaps, followed by 10 defensive snaps.
JPII’s defense started against the West Creek offense. The Coyotes ripped off runs of 9, 13 and 9 yards, before an offsides penalty, an incomplete pass and a sack by JPII senior Brooks Heagarty halted West Creek’s momentum.
In the Coyotes’ next four plays, they lost five yards.
JPII’s offense struggled against Nashville Christian, and when the Eagles took the ball against the Knights, they showed some flashes early with a 12 and 13 yard run. Nashville Christian’s offense then stalled with an incomplete pass and a three-yard loss on it last two plays.
The Knight’s offense looked sharp against the West Creek defense.
Senior Liam Altenbern, starting for the injured Antwan Roberts, the Knights’ leading rusher from last season, ripped off runs of 12 and 18 yards to set up a 19-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Sawyer Watts to senior wide receiver Rory White, who out-jumped the West Creek defensive back to make the reception.
“He’s got to win the one-on-one battles like he did tonight,” Geisinger said of White, who has committed to play football for the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Geisinger also was pleased with Watts, the junior competing for the starting quarterback spot.
“Sawyer has been the guy we’re expecting to step up. He still has to compete for the job,” Geisinger said. “He has the skill set. He has he intangibles to do it,” but he needs more experience, the coach added.
“In our offense, we expect him to make a lot of reads and do a lot of things. He’s getting there,” Geisiner continued. “These next two weeks will be important for him to grow.
With Roberts, who has attracted interest from several SEC teams, nursing a minor injury, it gave some of JPII’s other running backs, like Altenbern, a chance to see some action.
“He’s not a big kid, but he runs downhill. He’s a tough kid,” Geisinger said of Altenbern. “He had a couple of really good runs in the second series.”
The JPII staff held Roberts out of the scrimmage as a precaution, Geisinger said. “We want to make sure he’s ready to go for the season.”
On defense, the Knights’ leading tackler from last year, Jay Wright, stood out with several tackles.
“He’s just a good football player. He has very good football instincts,” Geisinger said. “We will count on him a lot” to anchor the defense with Heagarty, another returning starter at linebacker.
“We were excited about getting some live snaps tonight,” Geisinger continued. “The goal was to just go out there and play with great effort and great intensity.”
The Knights will travel to Ravenwood on Friday, Aug. 9, and host Brentwood on Friday, Aug. 16, for its next two scrimmages. They will open the season by hosting Overton High School of Nashville on Friday, Aug. 23.