There’s a run on running quarterbacks in the MSAC.
In essence, 10 of 12 teams in the Class AAA Mountain State Athletic Conference welcomed back their starting QBs from last year. And to make matters worse for opposing defenses, this run includes plenty of quarterbacks who can also take off and, well, run.
Dual-threat quarterbacks are all the rage in the MSAC this season, as perhaps nine different teams will sport run-pass threats of varying degrees under center.
Statistically, the top four includes Grant Wells (George Washington), Kerry Martin Jr. (Capital), Trae Murphy (South Charleston) and Derek Johnson (Spring Valley).
Wells accounted for 2,769 yards and 35 touchdowns with his passing and running exploits, Martin followed with 2,743 yards and 33 TDs, Murphy had 2,413 yards and 21 TDs and Johnson ended with 2,256 yards and 27 TDs.
You think balance pays off under center? All four of their teams made the Class AAA playoffs last year, and all four won at least one game in the postseason. Capital reached the semifinals and Spring Valley played in the title game for the first time. The combined record of those four teams with a top dual-threat QB was 36-15.
“It’s always difficult to face a quarterback who can do more than stand there in the pocket,’’ said Hurricane coach Jeremy Taylor. “You’ve got to prepare big-time when you’ve got a quarterback who can actually run the ball instead of hand off. It puts a whole new dimension to things. ... It’s something you can’t plan for.’’
Taylor and the Redskins had that point drilled home to them last season when they played Capital and Martin, its elusive QB.
The week before Hurricane met the Cougars, Martin burned Huntington for a career-high 106 rushing yards and a touchdown on 12 carries as Capital won 35-18. So the Skins paid more attention to Martin on the edges, and what happened? He went 16 of 20 passing for 320 yards and a personal-best six TDs to fuel a 61-20 Capital conquest.
“Capital torched us throwing the ball,’’ Taylor said, “just dropping it off to people. If you double the receivers, [Martin] can always take off and run. Dual threat is where it’s at. If you can get it, you’ve got to use it.
“It’s kind of like when Navy runs the wishbone. They’re not known for passing, but every once in a while they slip a guy running wide open down the middle. It’s crazy how more complex offenses have gotten. The days of 3 yards and a cloud of dust may not be completely over but, man, I don’t know if a state championship’s been won like that in the last 10 years. I sure don’t remember it.’’
Versatile QBs are making believers out of many coaches. Luke Salmons, who’s always employed a run-first offense at Cabell Midland, has also seen the light when it comes to having a mobile quarterback.
Even though last year’s starter, pocket passer Gabriel “Texas’’ Childress, is still on the roster, the Knights are trending toward having Jovaun Light, a starter at cornerback last year, take over under center.
“He can run and throw,’’ Salmons said, “and he’s a smart leader. Good kid.’’
With run-capable QBs like Coy Petitt and Tyler Brown in 2014 and ’15, respectively, Midland went a combined 22-3. Last year, without that threat, they slipped to 6-5.
“Dual quarterbacks can hurt you,’’ Salmons said. “Last year with us, we weren’t as good. In 2014, we had a quarterback who can run and make some plays and was that third or fourth guy if something wasn’t there. He didn’t score all the time or have big games, but it was that added dimension that makes it great when you’ve got a quarterback who can make plays.
“You watch games and scout teams — even in college — and you see when it’s third-and-10 and [the quarterback] runs for 11. It’s what spread teams do all the time. It’s football, but if you have a quarterback who can put pressure on a defense, it’s extremely tough to defend. You’ve got so many options and he’s always a runner. ... It’s hidden yardage that fans don’t see as much as coaches.’’
Salmons recalled a 2015 game against Belfry, the eventual Kentucky 3A champion, when Brown broke off a 14-yard gain on third-and-12 and later ran for 10 yards on third-and-9. Midland won that game 49-7 — Belfry’s lone loss that season.
“You’ve got to have a guy who can make plays,’’ Salmons said. “The biggest threat is when it breaks down, he can make a play. We finally got a kid who can run and make throws, and in big games, he was the ‘X’ factor. I think Jovaun can be that guy because he’s got it, in my eyes.’’
St. Albans is sort of a gray area in the great dual-threat debate: Its two main QBs from last year are both still playing — Jayson Barrett is back, but pocket passer Nathan Roy transferred to Hurricane. Barrett was certainly liable to take off and run — he gained 873 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground last year despite missing two games, topping the Red Dragons in rushing.
However, Barrett is expected to man more of a runner-receiver position this season as SA goes with freshman quarterback Robert Alexander, son of the former two-time Kennedy Award winning running back from South Charleston, also named Robert Alexander. R.T. Alexander, as the current SA player is known, figures to carry on the tradition of a running QB for the Dragons.
Parkersburg could be another team joining the multi-faceted craze under center.
The Big Reds hired Madison native Mike Byus as their coach earlier this year, and he brings a pass-happy approach to Wood County.
Byus coached 12 seasons at East Lincoln High in Denver, North Carolina, taking the Mustangs to a pair of state 2-AA championships. In East Lincoln’s most recent title season in 2014, quarterback Chazz Surratt threw for 53 TDs and ran for 19.
Senior Kam Mace is projected to start at QB for Parkersburg.
Among the other top returnees who can hurt teams throwing it or running it are Mark Scites of Riverside and Brayden Campbell of Ripley.
Scites had some explosive games across the board for the Warriors last year, throwing for 305 yards and two TDs against Parkersburg and 266 yards with one TD against Morgantown. In a win against Liberty Raleigh, he carried 14 times for 132 yards and three scores. He finished with 1,263 yards passing and seven TDs and 270 yards rushing with nine scores (1,533 yards of total offense, 16 TDs).
Campbell accounted for more than 1,300 yards of total offense and 13 touchdowns for the Vikings, throwing for 1,078 yards and nine TDs and rushing for 289 yards and four scores. Against South Charleston, he carried 17 times for 112 yards and one TD — his first and only career 100-yard game on the ground.
Two other MSAC teams also return their starting quarterbacks — Huntington (Luke Zban) and Woodrow Wilson (Sutton Radford). Neither has been a threat to run the ball.