A primary storyline for the Sage Hill School football team throughout the offseason was how the passing attack would respond to the graduation of star receiver Miles McCord, who hauled in 67 catches for more than 1,000 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2016.
On the heels of a five-touchdown passing performance from senior quarterback William Leong last week, the Lightning appear to have successfully turned the chapter with a diverse playbook, veteran leadership under center and emerging impact offensive players.
On Friday night, the host Lightning dismantled another opponent, beating St. Michael’s Prep 56-6 in a nonleague game, a week after a 65-12 triumph. Not bad for a program that’s just in its second year of 8-man football.
“We have one of the best quarterbacks in this 8-man league,” coacH B.J. Crabtree said. “He can do it all. He can run, throw the ball all over the place. 40-plus touchdowns to nine picks, and I’m guessing the numbers will be similar again this year. On top of the fact that he is just a great kid that can control the offense. So yeah, we’re going to lean on him quite a bit.”
One of the Lightning’s vital pieces from last season, junior Darius Shayan-Smith, was at the forefront of Friday’s offensive explosion. Shayan-Smith compiled 115 yards and three touchdowns on five catches, in addition to returning an interception for a touchdown and wreaking havoc in the backfield throughout the evening.
Crabtree tasked his defense during the week to get eight guys flying to the ball on every play, and Sage Hill (2-0) wasted no time in accepting the coach’s challenge.
On the opening drive, the Lightning stopped the Archangels for a pair of negative rushing plays and an incompletion. Following a botched snap on the punt, Sage Hill received the ball at its opponent’s two-yard-line, setting up an easy rushing touchdown for junior Nick Karahalios.
A 15-yard run from quarterback DJ Mason brought St. Michael’s into Lightning territory for one of the few times in the game, but it would turn the ball over on downs again. This led to the first of Shayan-Smith’s three receiving touchdowns, an 18-yard strike.
After another inaccurate snap from the Archangels’ 19-yard-line, resulting in a nine-yard net punt, the stage was set for one of Leong’s finest moments of the evening. The senior faked the screen, stepped up into the pocket and found a wide-open Griffin Lewis down the left sideline for a 24-yard touchdown.
Two more unanswered touchdowns placed the Lightning ahead 28-0, but it was not done piling on the points in the first quarter. As Mason attempted a pass toward the sideline, Shayan-Smith came up with another big play, snatching an interception and taking it 15 yards to the house.
“I saw their guys weren’t really blocking me, and whenever that happens I just look up and try to see the play,” Shayan-Smith said. “The ball was right there so I just grabbed it and took it in.”
With Sage Hill holding a seemingly insurmountable 47-6 halftime lead, both coaches agreed to a running clock in the second half. The Lightning tacked on nine more points as the Archangels were held scoreless, with the lone second-half touchdown coming on an untouched 64-yard scamper from Leong.
“It was a drag route across the field,” Leong said. “I was supposed to roll right, and I didn’t see the drag right. I said, ‘Oh no’, but I saw an open hole so I just took off.”
While an abundance of promise was the main theme of Sage Hill’s victory, Crabtree is looking for improved consistency in the trenches as a dynamic passing attack begins to hit its stride.
“We need to give our quarterback more time,” Crabtree said. “We try to find a couple main points to focus on each week, and protecting our quarterback is going to be that focus next week. Right now we are doing some quick-hitters, which is working, but we know the competition is going to toughen up.”
Sage Hill returns to the field at 7 p.m. Sept. 8 against visiting North Valley Military Institute.
Sage Hill 56, St. Michael’s 6
Sage Hill………35 12 6 3 — 56
St. Michael’s….0 6 0 0 — 6
SH – 10:22 N. Karahalio 2 run (Corona kick blocked), 10:22
SH – Shayan-Smith 18 pass from Leong (2-pt good), 5:27
SH – Lewis 24 pass from Leong (Corona kick good), 2:23
SH – Shayan-Smith 54 pass from Leong (Corona kick good) , 1:35
SH – Shayan-Smith 15 INT (Corona kick good), 1:28
STM – Mason 60 INT (2-pt no good), 6:50
SH – Shayan-Smith 32 pass from Leong (Corona kick no good) , 2:59
SH – M. Sherlock 20 pass from Leong (Corona kick no good), 0:00
SH – Leong 64 run (Corona kick no good), 9:19
SH – Corona 20 FG, 8:01
SH – Leong 4-64 yards, one TD
STM – Mason 11-29 yards
SH – Leong 10-15-1, 193 yards, five TDs
STM – Puccio 5-6, 32 yards
SH – Shayan-Smith 4-115 yards, 3 TDs
STM – Goodwin 3 receptions-17 yards
JOSH CRISWELL is a contributor to Times Community News. Follow him on Twitter: @joshccriswell