September 7, 2010

Thurs. night observations: Athens Drive at Broughton

The Wolfpacker was at Broughton High School on Thursday night for a showdown between Athens Drive and Broughton. Broughton features NC State commitment Juston Burris, as well as standout juniors Chris Mangus, a running back, and linebacker Drew Davis. Athens Drive was led by senior quarterback Ben Snotherly and their spread attack. Here are some of our observations after the game.

The Game

This game showcased what high school football is all about. It was a back-and-forth battle that came down to the wire, with plenty of impressive highlights turned in by each side.

Burris was not in the game for the first offensive or defensive series but came in on Broughton's second offensive possession and took a pass to the house from 15 yards out on his first touch of the game. The Broughton defense held the Athens Drive aerial attack in check until they scored again in the opening frame on a 58-yard scamper from Mangus. The score held at 14-0 until the third quarter.

Snotherly and Athens Drive struck first in the second half, when the signal caller hooked up with A.J. Stewart on a 28-yard pass. Snotherly found Stewart with just under six minutes remaining in the third quarter and scrambled to his left while breaking away from a Broughton defender before finding a wide-open Stewart at the goal-line.

Snotherly struck again in the fourth quarter with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Adrien King to tie the game at 14. Broughton answered with a 35-yard catch and run from Mangus coming out of the backfield. The extra point was blocked, though, which gave Broughton a 20-14 lead in the final quarter.

Athens Drive pulled ahead again following a huge 52-yard Snotherly completion to Stewart, a tough 5-foot-8 and 148-pound junior that finished with 80 yards receiving and one score. The pass set up a four-yard touchdown run from Snotherly and, after the extra point, it was 21-20, in favor of Athens Drive.

When Broughton got the ball back, they turned it over immediately on an incredible interception by Athen Drive's Cameron Boone, a 5-foot-11 and 177-pound senior linebacker who turned in a solid game. The first play after the turnover was an attempted double pass from Athens Drive, which Burris picked off in a jump ball situation against Louis Wilder, a good 6-foot-3 senior wide out who had over 1,000 yards receiving last season and has something like nine receptions for five touchdowns so far this season.

The Broughton game winning drive was spurned on by a jaw-dropping 45-yard catch hauled in by Clay Jones of the Capitals. Jones had a few nice catches and a very solid game, overall. After that, Burris took over the drive, bringing in three catches for 39 yards while Broughton kicked a 21-yard field goal with 17 seconds left to take the lead, 23-21. Despite a few tricky plays from Athens Drive, they couldn't get the ball moving on the final drive and 23-21 was the final.

Scouting Broughton

In Broughton's opening game that The Wolfpacker attended, it seemed that Burris' role focused on the defensive side of the ball and in the return game. That doesn't appear to be the case anymore, although it is likely he still plays safety in college. Now, it appears Broughton looks to fully utilize Burris on the offensive side of the ball.

Burris has sure hands, catches the ball away from his body and is dangerous after the catch. Burris was unstoppable on the inside slant routes. He would make the catch and pick up some nice yards every time they targeted him on the slant. He also shows great ability to get behind his defender on the deep routes. He was targeted on two long balls, and was behind his defender on both, but the quarterback just overthrew him. On the game-winning drive, there was a play where Burris got behind his defender and would have caught the ball right near the goal line but the defender knew he was beat and basically tackled the wideout. Somehow, no pass interference was called but even after Burris was knocked to the ground, he got a hand on the ball and still almost hauled in what would have been an incredible catch. The final tally shows Burris with five catches for 72 yards and a score.

On defense, Burris was not in nearly as much as the first game but he did nothing to disappoint in any facet of the game. He was solid when he was defending and had a game-changing interception on a jump ball against a very solid, 6-foot-3 wideout, Louis Wilder. Unofficially, Burris was in on four tackles but Athens Drive seemed aware of his presence and mostly threw away from him. He was kicked away from on kicks for most of the night, as well, only returning one kick for about 23 yards. He was also back deep on punt returns but did not get the opportunity to return one.

Chris Mangus showcases his speed every time he steps on the field, but he showed off his toughness on Thursday night. Athens Drive's defense was tough and quick to the ball but Mangus still fought his way for a hard-earned 95 yards and one touchdown on 19 carries and added a 35-yard scoring reception. Mangus has sure hands out of the backfield but the holes just weren't opening up very much in the running game.

Outside of his 58-yard touchdown run, he only had about four other rushes go for more than five yards. Again, the offensive line had their hands full and Mangus saw a lot of contact at or behind the line of scrimmage. When he gets into open space, watch out. Mangus hits the hole hard every attempt, though. Although his strength is his slasher-type running style and excellent breakaway speed, Mangus showed some strength: lowering his shoulder and inviting some big contact on several occasions.

The Capitals did fumble on two quarterback-to-Mangus exchanges, including on their first offensive play. The first one looked to be the result of the quarterback being sacked right away and then still trying to pitch it to the back as he went down, but Mangus fell on it. The second one, which occurred midway through the second quarter looked like it was a good exchange, the back just didn't have a good handle but quarterback Will Cooper returned the favor and bailed Mangus out, jumping on it before any Athens Drive defenders could. Mangus also had a nice 10-yard pitch that he crossed the goal-line with called back for holding.

This was The Wolfpacker's first look at junior linebacker Drew Davis. He returned from a broken wrist last week and has been playing with a padded cast on his hand. A source close to the team indicated to us that Davis might not be at full strength yet but that the tough-as-nails kid was not going to be held out of the game if he could help it.

He is 6-2 and 215 pounds, earned all-conference honors last season at linebacker and runs very well for someone his size. He is a sideline-to-sideline presence and did a good job of sticking his nose in the action, helping to finish the Athens Drive ball carrier. He might not have made a ton of solo tackles, but he was always around the ball and a sure finisher when a pile began to build. With assists included, Davis was in on about 11 or 12 tackles and the film also revealed that he forced a fumble, which Broughton recovered.

The most encouraging sign from Davis was at one point in the third quarter when Athens Drive was moving the ball well; the linebacker just became a ever-present factor. He was in on at least four tackles in a row and was fairly quick to the ball after the Athens Drive receiver made the catch.

Davis may be a little over-aggressive at times, to a fault. Again, I would cut the kid some slack seeing as he has been back for just two games since having a screw inserted in his wrist so that might be partly attributed to rust. He did make some very good reads on screen plays and was right there to break up the play had the receiver made the grab.

The most encouraging things about the linebacker's game is that he is a high-effort player, always sprinting to the ball, and that he keeps his distance from offensive linemen who are blocking him, which allows him to shed the block and make a lot of plays.

Quick Hits

• Athens Drive quarterback Ben Snotherly has a good high school arm and commands his spread offense very well. He finished 17-of-33 for 250 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for 31 yards and a score and was extremely tough running the ball with his 6-3 frame.
• Athens Drive also has two huge wide receivers, although one did not play during the first half. 6-3 and 190-pound Louis Wilder is a senior who did not play during the first half but had a monster catch in the second half and finished with 74 yards in the air. He's got great size but might not run quite as well as would be needed to earn a big-time offer. He had over 1,000 yards through the air last year and already has five touchdowns this season. The other wide out who impressed was 6-4 and 204-pound junior Mike Estes. He only had 29 yards receiving but he definitely passes the looks test.
• The Broughton kicker, junior Hayden Pezzoni, nailed the game-winning 21-yard field goal but that was not his most impressive kick of the night. He lined up for a 42-yarder earlier in the game and really got a hold of the ball, but it hit the right upright and bounced out. Where it hit, though, was on the top quarter of the upright. That's not a common sight at a high school game.

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