Prep football: QB play is up

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 7, 2009

By Mike London
One thing we know after three weeks: the quality of quarterback play is way up this season.
As a group, this may be the best bunch Rowan County’s been blessed with since the mid-1990s when Mitch Ellis (North), Tim Hogue (West) and Kevin Sides (South) were tossing the pigskin around.
We may be watching three guys who will break school passing marks ó South senior Blake Houston, West junior B.J. Sherrill and Salisbury junior John Knox.
The latest county stats show Rowan’s top five QBs ó East’s Jamey Blalock and Carson’s Zach Gragg join the familiar trio ó have combined for 14 TD passes and three interceptions.
That’ll work anywhere, anytime.
In sharp contrast, after three weeks of the 2008 season, Rowan’s passing leaders had teamed for 10 TDs and a whopping 16 interceptions.
Sherrill, Houston and Knox are throwing with more confidence and greater precision than last season, which is to be expected. Older, wiser and stronger, they direct attacks headlined by exceptional running backs. They can pick their spots and pick defenses apart.
n Sherrill owns 1,991 career passing yards and is destined for membership in the 2,000-yard club this Friday when West visits Salisbury’s Ludwig Stadium.
Sherrill is pass-first, but he can make a play with his legs when necessary. He has 369 career rushing yards.
In West’s five-decade history, Hogue, Bryan Aycoth and Jared Barnette are the only quarterbacks to eclipse 2,000 passing yards.
Sherrill has nearly two seasons to go. Hogue’s total of 4,967 yards passing, which ranks third on the all-time county list, isn’t out of his reach.
Sherrill is 20 of 28 for 304 yards and three TDs the last two weeks, and he did that against squads that aren’t pushovers. It helps that every play-action fake to K.P. Parks freezes the entire stadium. It also helps that Jon Crucitti is impossible to cover.
But give Sherrill credit. He’s getting it done.
After Parks graduates, West may actually be a passing team Sherrill’s senior year. Not many fans thought they’d live long enough to see that.
n Houston is 19-for-30 passing (63.3 percent) this season with four TDs and one interception. Cutting down the picks is key. He had 19 TD passes entering this season, but the cost was high ó 21 INTs.
Houston surpassed 2,000 yards passing for his career in a 17-14 loss at Northwest Cabarrus on Friday.
South has been a run-run-run program for decades, so it’s not surprising Sides is the only previous Raider to exceed 2,000 passing yards.
Houston, who is credited with 682 career rushing yards after a negative night on the ground at Northwest, has a shot at Sides’ school marks of 2,737 yards passing and 3,376 yards total offense.
n Salisbury coach Joe Pinyan joked last fall that every time he calls for a pass it should be considered a “trick play” for the wishbone Hornets.
Maybe he wasn’t kidding. Knox has nearly as many yards rushing (169) as passing (176) this season.
Don’t be fooled. Knox isn’t just an athlete directing the option. He’s a legit quarterback. He has a strong arm and a cool head and is amazingly efficient. He’s 7-for-15 this year with four scores and no interceptions.
Pinyan called Knox’s 26-yard TD toss to tight end Riley Gallagher in a 50-6 win against Carson on Friday “a big-time throw.” Knox also hit a 72-yard scoring play to Alex Weant. Dominique Phillips would’ve caught a sweet TD pass, as well, had he been able to get his body swiveled around in time.
Knox produced nine TD passes and only three picks as a sophomore and just keeps getting better. He has 1,116 yards passing and 673 rushing for his career.
In 2010, he could be in position to challenge Jonathan Partee’s SHS career record of 2,477 yards passing set in the late 1980s.
n Blalock had a breakout night Friday as East shattered a 25-game losing streak against winless Concord in decisive fashion. Blalock piled up 161 yards of offense, rushed for a TD and threw for two more scores.
He’s passed 29 times with only one interception.
n Gragg doesn’t appear to be the running threat the other QBs are, but he’s passed for 130 yards in two starts and has put the ball in the air 24 times without being picked off.
Gragg showed poise in the lopsided loss to Salisbury. Carson couldn’t get a running game going and gave him minimal protection, but he hung in there.
n North Rowan was idle Friday, and the week off has to help the Cavaliers achieve a little stability at the all-important QB position.
So far, the Cavs haven’t matched the strides of the rest of the county. In two games, North signal-callers produced one completion, four picks, minus-45 rushing yards and zero points.
Former North QBs Daniel Griffith, Mitch Ellis and Mario Sturdivant own the county record book, and ex-North standouts Alfonzo Miller, Keegan Linza, Craig Powers, Cameron Wood, Graham Hosch, Sakelo Lilly, Carvie Kepley, Bobby Myers and Jeff Holshouser rank near the top of the list in passing categories.
Eight of the top 12 passers of the past 50 years in Rowan County are Cavs.
n Two more junior quarterbacks demonstrated promise Friday.
In his second varsity start, Davie’s Jacob Barber accounted for four TDs and nearly sparked what would’ve been a stop-the-presses upset of defending 3A champ West Rowan.
Davie fell three points short, but Barber’s 240 yards of offense were stunning and will have West defensive coaches searching for answers this week.
A.L. Brown’s Martel Campbell, basically a rookie, threw for 109 yards and rushed for 76 in a 34-28 comeback victory on the road at Thomasville. The Wonders will take that production every Friday.