Connor White went into Texas State’s spring training looking to prove he has what takes to be an efficient quarterback.
Although he is the backup to Tyler Jones, White knows his number could be called any time. If it happens, the freshman redshirt wants the coaches to know he can handle the job.
White made a strong case for his dependability during Saturday’s spring game as he passed for 202 yards and two touchdowns, including a 52-yard Hail Mary strike on the final play in guiding the Maroon to a 23-21 win over the Gold at Bobcat Stadium.
Although the winning touchdown pass stood out, White had other bright spots. He also hit Brandon Smith on a 4-yard TD toss in the first period, while running for a 20-yard touchdown scamper in the second quarter during the building of a 17-0 lead. The only negative was two interceptions, but finishing the day with 15 of 29 passes for 202 yards was still encouraging.
“I know Tyler is the starter, but I told him I wanted to close the gap a little bit,” White said. “I want to be a good second-team quarterback to push him the best way I could and improve my skills as well.”
How did it go this spring?
“I felt I had an on and off spring,” White said. “Turnovers were a big thing. You can’t have those at this level. That’s one thing I am working to improve on for next season. My reads are better. It’s a lot easier this spring than last year.”
Texas State coach Dennis Franchione was pleased with White’s progress. He also saw good things from Jones and third-stringer Blaire Sullivan, who rallied the Gold from a 17-0 deficit.
Jones completed 20 of 33 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns, the last being a 3-yard TD toss to Stedman Mayberry that gave the Gold a 21-17 lead with 1:37 remaining. Sullivan played briefly in the fourth quarter, but was there long enough to throw a 9-yard scoring strike to Chris French.
“I thought all three quarterbacks played well,” Franchione said. “Connor started off hot. This was a big day for him because he didn’t get to play a lot last year. Tyler is still ahead of him. But what he did today led us as coaches to think if something happens to Tyler we can keep going like we’re going. Tyler was Cool Hand Luke all the way.”
Franchione saw other positive things from his team, especially when it comes to staging comebacks. The best thing about that was it happened twice.
“I couldn’t have scripted those situations much better,” Franchione said. “That’s a great example of you play every play. The most important play in football is the next one. Those are experiences we can draw from teaching this.”
It appeared the Gold team had things wrapped up after Jones’ connection with Mayberry in the final minute. Connor and his group showed there was plenty of time for more magic.
White moved the Maroon to the 48 and with time remaining for one more play, the call from the sidelines was for the Hail Mary. The Maroon quarterback then delivered his home run ball. A crowd of defenders were waiting near the 2-yard line, but the ball slipped through them and into the hands of Gaines, who stepped into the end zone for the winning score.
“I don’t think spring training could end more fun than that,” White said. “We were trying to buy some time and get to around the 45 to have a chance at a Hail Mary.”
Gaines was more than happy to be on the receiving end for his first career Hail Mary.
“Ryan Garrey (receiver) and I were trying to debate whether we were going to behind the defense or in front of the defense,” Gaines said. “I just told him I was going to be the deepest person just in case something happened.
“The defense was there trying to swat the ball down and make a play. I was just concentrating on catching the ball. I got it and backed up into the end zone.”
After a productive spring, the Bobcats turn their attention to the upcoming season, which begins with Florida State. Going against one of the premiere powers has the team fired up, but their main objective this season is earning a bowl trip after being snubbed following last year’s 7-5 season.
“It’s motivated us this year,” Gaines said. “We were 7-5 and always told if you get that seventh win you’re going to a bowl game. I didn’t even watch a bowl game last year because I thought we should have been there. I felt like we took great strides from going 6-6 to 7-5. Now, we know what we have to do next season, and that’s get an eighth win.”