Turmoil has embroiled South Pointe’s football program since Tuesday, and that will likely continue Friday night when the Stallions trot out a rookie quarterback against the state’s No. 1 team.
Who the quarterback will be is a question that won’t be answered until 7:30 p.m. Friday night when Strait Herron’s team hosts undefeated rivals Northwestern (5-0, 1-0). The school declined interview requests this week in the wake of starting quarterback Davonta Blake’s arrest at South Pointe on Tuesday. He’s charged with selling marijuana on school property and out on $30,000 bail. Blake was suspended from the team.
The interview ban included questions regarding football too, but an educated guess suggests that sophomore Zaylin Burris may be next in line to quarterback the Stallions on Friday night. The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder has seen some action under center already this season, mostly in late-game situations and against Irmo when Blake went down with cramps. Burris and Blake each wear No. 19.
The statistical evidence is slim: Burris did rip off a 27-yard touchdown run last week during a 52-14 romp over Fort Mill and he completed both of his passes when he came off the bench against Irmo in Week Zero. According to MaxPreps, coaches voted Burris one of the offensive players of the game in the season-opening win over Irmo, after being “thrown in the fire,” according to the site.
The Trojans enter the contest with none of the turmoil surrounding their hosts, and all of the looks of a state championship-caliber club. Quarterback Mason Rudolph is posting the kind of numbers one would expect from a Division I recruit; he’s tossed 19 touchdown passes with just one interception in five games, while completing 74 percent of his passes. Senior transfer Quadarius Fair has given the Trojans a like-for-like replacement for graduated receiver Rontavious McClure, while Dupree Hart and Mustafia Love continue to produce at machine-like levels on the perimeter.
Stopping the Trojans offensively is always the issue. South Pointe is usually one of the programs best positioned to do so because of its annual defensive ability, but this year’s meeting with the purple and gold will test that theory. Stallions defensive lineman Zeek Rodney, the state’s defensive player of the year last fall, hasn’t put up anywhere near the numbers he did last season, due mainly to a hamstring issue he hasn’t been able to shake. His effectiveness Friday will depend on that stretch of fibers in the back of his leg.
With Northwestern’s Air Raid offense, the onus is on the Stallions’ secondary to disguise its coverage and jump routes to throw off Rudolph’s reads and, subsequently, Northwestern’s methodical offensive timing. Few, if any, have done that this year. Kyle Richardson’s team has turned the ball over just once in five games.
Trying to keep pace offensively would have been necessary on Friday night, regardless of the starting quarterback. Burris, by all accounts, has vast potential, and he does have one supporter in his corner who can relate. Charlotte freshman defensive back Devin Pearson, the Stallions’ QB the last three years, was tossed into the inferno in similarly sudden circumstances during a 2010 region contest against Fairfield Central.
That night, South Pointe starter Tay Hicklin was dropped on the sideline by what appeared to be a late hit and a fracas ensued in which he apparently threw a punch and was subsequently ejected. Enter Pearson, a sophomore defensive back, who at 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds was considerably smaller than Burris at the same age.
When coaches hollered for him to come into the game, Pearson initially thought they were joking. He soon realized they weren’t.
“The thing that was going through my head was don’t panic, stay calm because the team needs you,” he said Wednesday. “You’re the quarterback now.”
Pearson’s offensive line offered verbal support as soon as he stepped into the huddle, and though things didn’t go completely smoothly in the first half, he threw a touchdown pass in the second and the Stallions held on for a 17-7 win. He credited his early success to good preparation from the coaches during the preceding weeks.
“That whole year, they always told me to stay focused and tuned in,” Pearson said. “So hopefully, he’s been doing the same thing and he’s ready to play this week.”
Things worked out well for Pearson. He went on to earn Class AAA player of the year honors in 2011 and a football scholarship this fall at Charlotte where he’s one of just seven true freshmen to see playing time this fall.
Whether Burris will be able to have any success like that depends on whether he even starts Friday night. You’ll have to go to the game to find out.
Bret McCormick • 329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T