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Thornton makes big plays for UW in spring game

Apr 19, 2014 - The Associated Press

Tom Thornton was flying.

Late in the third quarter of Wyoming's spring game inside War Memorial Stadium on Saturday, the sophomore quarterback took a snap, turned and faked a hand off to his running back. The "brown squad" quarterback dropped into an ideal pocket and took a peek downfield.

His eyes found his receiver -- Trent Sewell -- and daylight.

"It feels great [to see a receiver wide open]," Thornton said after the scrimmage. "It's a relief, kind of like, 'Oh, it worked! Now I just have to put the ball on him.'

"Sometimes when the guy's too wide open you're like, 'Oh, no. I can't miss.' But you can't be thinking like that. You have to throw it normally."

Thornton zipped it, and Sewell caught it and skated into the end zone for a 52-yard score. Thornton pumped his fist and jumped into the arms of his center, Zach D'Amico, who lifted the 6-foot-1 quarterback high into the air.

Literally and figuratively, Thornton was on top.

The sophomore finished the game 7-of-9 for 117 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Brown Squad to a 21-14 victory over the Gold Squad. Coach Craig Bohl, who milled around the field and caught the action from a number of different angles, certainly noticed.

"He did some great things, particularly in play action," Bohl said. "That's going to build off our offense when we're able to run the football. He threw the ball well, and he had a great downfield throw. He put some air on the ball and hit the receiver in stride. That's encouraging.

"He has had a good spring, and he's in a competitive situation at the quarterback spot."

It was a challenging day for the gold team -- also known as the first-team -- offense, as the Cowboys were shut out during the first three quarters before adding two touchdowns on quarterback keepers in the fourth.

Redshirt senior quarterback Colby Kirkegaard was 6-of-9 for 85 yards, but when he smelled the end zone, his legs did the work. Kirkegaard bounced around the right side in the fourth quarter and dived across the goal line from six yards out.

Before making the leap, Kirkegaard understood that his flight would be a rocky one. That didn't alter his decision.

"Once I committed I knew I was going for it," Kirkegaard said with a grin. "I knew I might take a licking, but it was worth it to get into the end zone."

Kirkegaard's favorite target on Saturday was senior Jalen Claiborne, who finished with five catches for 75 yards and added 25 rushing yards on three jet sweeps.

At one point, the skinny-as-a-twig Claiborne jumped high for a ball along the sideline, snatched it out of the air and landed with a thud on his back. After a few uneasy moments, he gathered himself and moved slowly to the bench.

Bumps and bruises didn't stop him Saturday, just as they haven't all spring.

"He's really shown a great deal of determination," Bohl said. "He has had a back issue all spring long that he continues to fight through. When you're a thoroughbred wide receiver, to see him gutting it out, that's impressive. He made some plays today."

The team's running backs made fewer plays, a Shaun Wick 20-yard gallop serving as a rare offensive highlight. Wick had 48 yards on 10 carries, and sophomore Omar Stover added 40 yards on 16 carries, often swallowed up by a feisty defensive line.

Explosive plays were few and far between, but Thornton and Sewell provided the biggest one of the day. And in that moment, with his fist pumping and his lineman lifting him like a trophy, the future in Laramie looked bright.

"These 15 practices have been huge," Thornton said. "We got better every single day as an offense, as a unit, as a whole team. We really showed today that we can execute this offense."

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