HHS Hurting At QB

Posted: October 9, 2012

HARRISONBURG – Joe Carico recalled that in the early 1980s, when he was an assistant football coach at James Madison University, the Dukes had to turn to a backup quarterback – an unsettling task when you’re trying to find someone to get the ball to your star wide receiver, in this case future Redskin Gary Clark.

Fast forward to 2012 and the Harrisonburg High School quarterbacks coach has a far more complicated problem: essentially creating a quarterback from scratch.

Carico said Monday he will try out “a couple” of position players at quarterback this week to find a replacement for junior first-year starter Ryan Nixon, who broke his left leg (tibia) during Friday’s 19-14 loss to Broadway.

The Blue Streaks (3-3 overall, 1-2 in the Valley District) had already lost their two backup QBs because of injuries and were forced to play senior wide receiver Weylin Holmes in Nixon’s spot after halftime Friday.

Holmes rushed for 45 yards on 12 carries and completed two of five passes for 15 yards.

“To be honest, this is unchartered territory for me – and I guess most of us here,” HHS coach Chris Thurman said Monday. “We’re going to have to figure it out. We’re going to have to figure out how to move the ball and do it. Who knows? We might get better as we go with this.”

But with just four regular-season games left, including Friday’s at Fort Defiance, and sitting at .500, Thurman views every game a must-win in terms of being a legitimate playoff contender, or even a playoff team, period.

“I feel like 7-3 would give you a shot,” Thurman said. “… We’re in a hole at 3-3. If you get in the playoffs with a losing record or something, you’re not going to be there long. You have to get on a roll and now’s the time.”

Carico said Monday that the speedy Holmes isn’t guaranteed to play quarterback this Friday but that he is still an option. Carico declined to name Harrisonburg’s other options.

“It’s just different,” Carico said. “You know, I’ve got to get people ready to play in the ball game.”

There’s never a good time to lose a starting quarterback. But mid-game Friday seemed like one of the worst times, as Holmes was thrust into a role he hadn’t experienced since rec league.

Also, the Streaks were already experiencing a dip in offensive production.

In back-to-back district losses to R.E. Lee and Broadway, HHS completed just 12 passes for 109 yards, three interceptions and zero touchdowns. Thurman’s spread offense – predicated on big plays through the air – averaged 138 passing yards and 25.5 points in each of its first four games en route to a 3-1 start. Nixon threw 10 touchdown passes and just three interceptions in that span.

Against Broadway, the Streaks led 14-13 at halftime, when Nixon was ruled out of the game, but were shut out in the second half. During halftime, Holmes went through a brief walk-through and took a few more snaps on the sideline before play continued, with HHS using a limited dink-and-dunk passing game.

Not surprisingly, several HHS assistant coaches said it was the first time they had ever had to practice during halftime. But bad luck had already shrunk the Streaks’ depth chart.

Backup quarterback Kasaan Fields was sidelined with a hand injury after playing on defense with a taped-up arm against Turner Ashby on Sept. 21. He’s recovering from a surgical procedure in which a pin was placed into his hand two weeks ago. Thurman said his status is unclear, but that he could be out at least another week.

Harrisonburg’s third-string quarterback, freshman Ranon Barber, was on crutches after suffering an injury during the fourth quarter of a junior varsity game on Thursday. HHS was also without its strongest offensive lineman, Salvador Saravia (shoulder).

 “You’re never going to hear me sit around and moan about it,” Thurman said. “All I’m going to say is: When you have to use your fourth quarterback, the sun isn’t shining on your world. … We’re just going to try to find a way to win one game. One at a time.”

That might mean running the ball more with sophomore Jordan Dove, who is entrenched in the starting tailback role after rolling to nearly 300 total yards of offense in three weeks.

Or it might mean an expanded role for senior Keenan Jordan, who scored eight of the team’s 12 touchdowns through Week 3 despite having just 14 carries and seven catches. He’s had just 10 carries since.

“He will have a role [on offense] in whatever we decide to do,” Thurman said of Jordan, who starts on defense at cornerback. “He’s too good of an athlete to stand on the sideline and watch.

“He’s going to push to get better. That kid is a competitor. He’s going to push to get better, get back in there and help us where he can. He wants to play.”

But the game plan – like the quarterback situation – is largely unknown at this point.

Ironically, the Streaks entered the season trying to find ways to get the ball into Holmes’ hands. Now, he could be handling the ball every snap at quarterback.

“We have other guys,” Thurman said of Harrisonburg’s other athletic wide receivers, such as Issiah Smith and Hayden Rutherford. “It’s just the same thing: can you get them the ball? You have guys. We have Keenan and Issiah and Matt [Shifflett] and those guys. But it’s still that situation: Can you get them the ball?”

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