For starters, at 4 schools, 2 QBs are better than 1 Alternating system brings success

October 29, 1991|By Sam Davis

St. Paul's Mitch Tullai is the dean of area high school football coaches with 39 years as a varsity coach, but he hasn't been around so long that he isn't willing to try something new.

This season, Tullai is alternating quarterbacks, and the Crusaders have been successful. They are 7-1 and tied for first in the MSA C Conference.

Three other area teams also have enjoyed success this season with alternating quarterbacks -- Edmondson (5-1), Chesapeake of Baltimore County (6-2) and Poly (4-2).

Two QBs or not two QBs? That is the question.

"I would definitely go with one guy if I could, because it's easier. But if you have two who are fairly equal, you have to take advantage of that, too," Tullai said.

Tullai is doing just that with senior Chas Offutt and junior Joey Unitas. Offutt is the slightly more accurate passer and ball-handler because of his experience. Unitas has a stronger arm and better running ability, not to mention the genes (his dad is former Baltimore Colts great and Pro Football Hall of Famer John Unitas).

Offutt has played two complete games, including Saturday's 13-7 win at Severn, in which he passed for 142 yards, but the two have split the remaining time.

Offutt has completed 28 of 58 passes for 543 yards and five touchdowns; Unitas is eight of 22 for 142 yards and two touchdowns.

"The kids are handling it [the competition] well. They are friends, and there is no animosity," Tullai said.

That's not to say that either wants the status quo to last.

"I really don't like it," Unitas said. "We're good friends, but competitors. I'd prefer that Mr. Tullai make a decision that someone is the starter until he screws up."

Offutt views the competition as "definitely healthy."

"I've been on both sides of it. I'd like to be the starter, but I feel that this creates pressure on each of us to keep up," he said. "If one slacks off, the other will be in there in no time. Knowing that someone is behind you who can come in and play at least as well is definitely healthy."

Edmondson's Michael Dawkins and Maurice Blanding agree. Redskins coach James James has been known to alternate the two during a series of downs.

"It's more effective having two quarterbacks," said Dawkins. "I'm glad we have two quarterbacks who can come in and do the job. This way, if one gets hurt, you won't have someone coming in throwing interceptions."

Blanding, a junior who has the stronger arm, has completed 36 of 69 for 517 yards and eight touchdowns. Dawkins, a senior, has completed 44 of 82 for 623 yards and 10 touchdowns.

At Chesapeake, sophomore Jermaine Johnson and senior Jason Christopher have split time in directing one of the area's most potent offenses. The Bayhawks average 25.5 points.

"This could be the type of chemistry that either works for you or against you. For us, it's been no problem," said coach Ken Johnson.

Jermaine Johnson was last year's junior-varsity quarterback. Christopher was the varsity backup. They attended summer camp together at the University of Delaware and became good friends.

"Both kids accept the situation, and one supports the other. On the sideline, each is the biggest fan of the other," Johnson said.

They also have virtually matched each other on the field. Johnson has completed 15 of 29 passes for 352 yards and six touchdowns. Christopher is 13 of 17 for 247 yards and two scores, although each spends much of his time handing off in an offense that has three backs with at least 538 yards rushing.

"They started out the year dead even. Last week, I didn't even know until Thursday which one I would start," Ken Johnson said. "Jermaine is the better athlete, but Jason is the senior who works hard and has a better grasp of the offense. They bail each other out."

Said Christopher, "This is very healthy and beneficial for our team. It makes both of us work hard in practice instead of one of us just lousing off."

Johnson said: "Of course I prefer to be the starter. I have a little more speed and the stronger arm, but Jason has more experience. Having two of us who can play is good for the team."

Only once before has Poly coach Augie Waibel alternated quarterbacks. That was in 1977-78, when John Nash (who went on to star at Maryland) was "the pure runner" and Noel Petroski was the drop-back passer.

This year, Waibel has used three quarterbacks, but it has not always been by choice. "We've been forced to do it because of injuries," he said.

Senior Andrew Pecora, who is best as a short passer and runner, was pressed into service after junior starter Mike Forstner dislocated a finger against Forest Park in the fourth game of the season.

There has been one unexpected dividend. Junior defensive back Kahray Tucker was moved to backup quarterback and has proved to be "the dark-horse guy," Waibel said.

Forstner started two games, completing six of 20 passes for 106 yards and one touchdown before his injury.

Pecora started three games completing 14 of 41 for 174 yards and three touchdowns, and then Tucker moved into the picture.

He threw one incomplete pass in Friday's 36-0 victory over Lake Clifton, as the Engineers ran up their highest point total of the season.

"We didn't throw because we didn't have to," said Waibel, who was nevertheless impressed with his junior's command of the offense and plans to start him Friday against Mount St. Joseph.

"We're going to start the one who has been the hottest in practice," said Waibel. "Although both know they're going to play."

Naturally.

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