By BRIAN LESTER
Tim Szabo has patiently waited for his turn to shine. After sitting out in 2011, he played sparingly the last two years for the University of Findlay football team.
If Saturday afternoon’s spring game is any indication, Szabo is going to get his opportunity to make an impact in 2014.
The redshirt junior wide receiver highlighted his seven-catch, 200-yard day with a touchdown grab in the second quarter that helped propel the Orange team to a 21-14 win over the Black on a mild and sunny April afternoon at Donnell Stadium.
“I’ve played just about every position this spring,” Szabo said. “They told me I was going to play in the slot today. I had a lot of chances to make plays. I just went out there and made them.”
Szabo caught a 57-yard pass in stride down the middle of the field in the final minute of the first half and ran untouched into the end zone to put the Orange up 21-0 at halftime.
Earlier in the half, he caught a 24-yard pass that set up the Orange at the Black 1-yard line. Jesse Slone, who threw both passes to Szabo, scored on a 1-yard run moments later for a 14-0 advantage.
Szabo is hoping the experience of today translates into success this fall .
“I’ve been here three years, and I’ve just worked hard and stayed the course,” Szabo said. “I’m going to keep working hard and I hope to be another weapon in our offense this year.”
UF head coach Rob Keys saw plenty of potential in Szabo when he recruited him. Over the course of the last month in spring practice, he has seen that potential shine through.
“We’ve seen glimpses of Tim’s potential and we know he can be really good,” Keys said. “He has caught big passes in practice, he has tremendous hands and deceiving speed. We’ve told Tim to just put it all out there and he’s done it more consistently. He is probably one of our most improved players of the spring.”
Teams for the spring game were selected by fifth-year seniors Nate Morris and Torrence Garland, and there was an added incentive for victory as steak dinners were on the line for the winners. The losing team got hot dogs.
Senior defensive back Harold Jones-Quartey, who made two tackles for the Orange squad, said he’s looking forward to the meal and said, “I want coach Keys to personally hand it to me.”
On a more serious note, Jones-Quartey is thrilled about the progress the Oilers have made on defense. At times a season ago, UF struggled, allowing 427.7 yards per game. But the Oilers finished strong, holding each of their last four opponents to under 400.
“We’ve been working really hard all spring to improve our defense,” Jones-Quartey said. “We felt like it was an achilles heel for our team last year. We’ve made improvements, though, and I think it showed today.”
Jones-Quartey defended one pass to kill off a drive for the Black squad while Zach Matracia, Brad Fenton and Daniel Gusching each tallied four tackles to pace the Orange team. Nate Morris racked up three tackles.
Kevin Brewton finished with three tackles for the Black team and delivered the biggest defensive play of the day as he scooped the ball up off the turf and raced 66 yards for a TD that cut the Orange lead to 21-14 with 2:35 remaining in the game.
“We need our older guys to step up and lead, and they have done that,” Keys said. “They’ve gone through some growing pains, but their time is coming. They want to be a great defense.”
Justin Browning led the Black team with six tackles while Elijah Farrakhan, Myles Alexander and Austin Reichert each tallied five tackles.
Verlon Reed was the Orange starter and went 8-of-13 for 98 yards. He threw a 24-yard scoring strike to Reilly Butz on the opening drive.
Slone was 5-of-11 for 180 yards while Devontae Payne led the Black team by completing 11 of his 28 passes for 101 yards. He hooked up with Lloyd Henry on a 24-yard TD pass in the third. Henry caught four passes for 39 yards.
Payne tried to lead the Black down the field for a game-tying drive in the final 26 seconds of play but was unable to complete a pass. Darnell Field also saw time at signal-caller and rushed for 58 yards.
Keys was pleased with the play of all four and has no intentions of naming a starter in the near future.
“If there is competition, that means you have to be on top of your game,” Keys said. “I don’t want us to be complacent. We saw good things out of all four. It’s a nice luxury to have.”
The Oilers’ attention now shifts to the summer workouts before camp starts in August. UF opens the 2014 season with a 7 p.m. game against Hillsdale on Sept. 6 at Donnell.
“We’ll be here working hard all summer,” Jones-Quartey said. “We want to get faster, stronger and more technically sound. We want to be at our best this season.”
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