North Shore rivals Carson Graham and Windsor will both be wielding dangerous weapons when they face off in AA football action this Friday at Windsor secondary.
Windsor quarterback Ty Marshall and Carson running back A.J. Blackwell, both Grade 12 students, have been putting up ridiculous stats as both teams have posted perfect 2-0 records to start regular season play in the AA Western Conference.
The Eagles are 6-0 overall and in those six games Blackwell has racked up 13 touchdowns while averaging 181 rushing yards per game. The numbers could be even higher but Carson's coaching staff has given Blackwell extended rest in a couple of blowout games already this season.
"He's been in a couple of games where I've limited his carries, so he could be much higher than that," said head coach John Buchanan. "He's been phenomenal. He's a very patient running back, he really lets the holes develop in front of him and uses his blockers very well."
Blackwell suffered a season-ending knee injury last year but worked hard to get back into shape for his Grade 12 year.
"He's a phenomenal athlete, he worked really hard in the offseason to put himself in the position he's in right now," said Buchanan.
Windsor head coach Jim Schuman certainly has taken notice of the talented running back.
"He's just a very explosive back, very patient runner," said Schuman. "When he does decide to make a cut or explode it's very hard to get him once he gets into space. He's going to be a challenge for us for sure."
The Eagles, one of the top-ranked teams in AA so far this season, pose a lot of problems beyond just stopping Blackwell, said Schuman.
"If you devote too many resources to him you make yourself vulnerable to other players on their team and their spread offence," he said. "That's why it's going to be so difficult for us. You almost kind of have to pick your spots on what you're going to defend."
The Dukes, however, have their own not-sosecret weapon. Marshall is in his third year as the team's starting quarterback and is putting up stats that dwarf even the gaudy numbers coming from Blackwell.
Through six exhibition and league games Marshall has been a true doublethreat, throwing 13 touchdowns and rushing for nine more.
"We kind of have a system that revolves around him offensively and put a lot on his shoulders and ask a lot of him.. .. He either throws 'em or he runs 'em in," said Schuman, adding that the team runs an option offence with many plays calling for Marshall to decide whether to carry it himself or pitch to a supporting running back.
"He's kind of our feature running back - as a quarterback we run him a lot," he said. "He's learned how to read defenses and choose what to do with the ball. He does have some flexibility and the ability to make his own decisions out there.. .. The option takes quite a while to become proficient at and he's gotten pretty good at distributing the ball and to pitch it.
In past years where we've lacked the horses or other backs to go to he's kind of been relied upon to get the tough yards himself and I think this year he's learning to spread the ball around and to pitch and acquire a little bit of finesse in the option game."
It's a fairly basic offence but one that can cause a lot of headaches when it's run by an athlete like Marshall.
"He's phenomenal," said Buchanan of the kid who his defence will be focused on stopping this week. "He's the complete package, he's a big, strong kid. He reads defences well and he's their best runner as well so if he's not getting it done through the air he'll try to do it on the ground."
Blackwell and Marshall have put up huge numbers so far but both teams are far from one-man shows.
"They are a really strong team," Buchanan said of Windsor. "They're always really well coached, Jim does a really good job with them. If you're lining up against Windsor, they're going to be very well prepared for what they're going to see. We're going to expect a real challenge this week.. .. For us, A.J. has gotten the bulk of the press and the bulk of the stats but it's absolutely no indication on the rest of our players. We've got some other very talented running backs, our receivers are very deep across the board. We can throw the ball to any of them with confidence and our line is playing very, very well. It's a complete game for us right now."
With Windsor, Carson Graham and the powerhouse John Barsby team from Nanaimo all still undefeated in conference play, Friday's matchup will go a long way towards determining who ends up where in the playoffs.
"It's not a make-orbreak for the season but it's definitely going to have playoff implications for who you end up drawing in the playoffs," said Schuman. "It's an important game. Someone is going to be able to continue to play for the conference championship, No. 1 and No. 2, and the loser is pretty much going to be relegated to third spot."
Kickoff is Friday at 3:45 p.m. at Windsor secondary.
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