Experienced WIU expecting banner 2016 season

(STATS) - Western Illinois won't sneak up on the competition this year while it tries to return to the FCS playoffs.

First-year coach Charlie Fisher got a closer look at his veteran team during spring practices, which concluded Friday night with the Purple squad (offense) edging the White (defense) 52-47 in the annual intrasquad game at Hanson Field.

A modified points system was used to reward the results of different plays. Nathan Knuffman's 33-yard field goal as time expired clinched the win, where a miss would have given the defense the necessary two points to tie the game.

After being picked eighth in the Missouri Valley Football Conference's preseason poll last year, the Leathernecks became the first six-win team to earn an at-large bid to the playoffs. They beat Dayton in the first round before falling to Illinois State and finishing with a 7-6 record.

Coach Bob Nielson left to take over South Dakota's program, and WIU hired Fisher - Richmond's offensive coordinator - to keep the momentum going. The Leathernecks are returning 46 letterwinners, including 17 starters (nine on offense, eight on defense). The standout group includes quarterback Trenton Norvell, wide receiver Lance Lenoir, center Jacob Judd and linebacker Brett Taylor, who each earned a form of All-MVFC honors.

Taylor and quarterback Sean McGuire, who started after Norvell was injured late last season, were named team captains for 2016. The Leathernecks will open the season Sept. 1 when they visit Eastern Illinois.

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