BELTON — As players filed out of the locker room and onto Tiger Field, equipped with helmets, pads and cleats that bestowed the signature red and white color scheme that Belton faithful have grown accustomed to seeing, only one conclusion could be drawn for the reason behind Thursday’s gathering.
It was the Tigers’ annual Red-White spring football game, and with fans in attendance and players hustling on both sides of the ball, it was another positive step in the fight for normalcy after a 2020 season that was hovered by the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a direct impact on Belton.
“It’s been great to get these practices in,” said Brett Sniffin, who’s in his second year coaching Belton and conducted his program’s first intrasquad scrimmage after last season’s spring practices were canceled because of the pandemic. “We accomplished what we wanted to accomplish. We got better defensively, which was our first goal, and we wanted to get better at the basics, which I think showed tonight.”
“It’s invaluable to have spring practices,” Sniffin said. “We get to know the players, the players get to know us and then we can all move forward in the same direction.”
The Tigers have plenty to work on before their 2021 campaign begins. Belton opens the season at Georgetown on Aug. 27 and will have to come up with answers regarding its defense and starting quarterback.
However, Thursday night showed several glimpses that the Tigers have enough talent to reverse things after last year’s stumble.
The Red-White game — which marked the conclusion to a month-long, 18-practice grind that started April 29 —didn’t feature a lot of scoring, which Sniffin takes as a positive, considering his Tigers allowed 30.3 points and 412.9 yards per game last season. Matthew Madsen had an interception and a sack, and Jay Burrola also had an interception to help lead Red over White, 17-7.
“I thought the defensive effort was fantastic and I think we looked a lot better tonight than we did the last game of last year,” Sniffin said. “We had some blown coverage that we’ll fix, but overall, they played very well together.”
Junior-to-be Slade LeBlanc and sophomore-to-be Ty Brown led the Red and White teams at quarterback, respectively. Sniffin said earlier this week that the two are the front-runners for the vacant starting QB position for Belton. LeBlanc completed five of eight passes, including a 30-yard TD pass to returning starting tight end senior-to-be Bryan Henry. Brown finished 5-of-7 passing.
“We judged them by how they played over the entire last month, not just today,” Sniffin said. “Nobody is going to win or lose anything from just tonight. They’re going to keep battling on into the fall.”
Red opened the scoring in the first quarter on a 5-yard TD run by Ritchie Willess. Henry’s TD catch made it 14-0 in the second quarter, and he also caught 12 and 15-yard passes Thursday. Senior-to-be kicker Zach White converted a 41-yard field goal later in the second quarter to make it 17-0.
For the running backs, La’Quaile Lawrence, LJ Underwood, Ayon York and Javier Luna took carries out of the backfield for White. Connor Vela and Willess produced solid runs for Red.
“I think we’re more athletic and we’re stronger than we were last year,” Sniffin said. “The kids also know what we want as coaches, and we know the kids better and know their strengths better, too.”