No quarterback, no problem for Wildcats
November 1, 2016
Heading into a playoff quarterfinal contest without a starting quarterback would spell trouble for most teams, especially if he's one of the state leaders in passing touchdowns with 31 in just nine games.
When South Summit High School quarterback Nick Beasley was forced to sit out this week due to two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the last regular season game, his team was somewhat expected to struggle a bit when hosting Enterprise in the UHSAA 2A playoffs.
But the Wildcats aren't most teams. Riding the arm of their third- (Kael Atkinson) and fourth-string (Cole Reidhead) quarterbacks, they raced out to a 52-0 lead in the first half, erasing any doubt that might've existed before the game. In the end, they finished off the Wolves 55-23 to advance to the semifinal round.
"The kids played great; they played together," Head Coach Mike Grajek said. "We were firing on all cylinders. Defense played great. Special teams played great. Offense played great."
Leading up to last Friday's game, Grajek had a decision to make, knowing Beasley would be unable to suit up. He could either go with the younger sophomore Kael Atkinson or typical wide receiver, but quarterback reserve Parker Grajek. With Parker nursing a minor leg injury (though he still played as a receiver with a brace), the head coach went with Atkinson.
Going with Atkinson proved a smart choice, with three of the team's first five scores coming off of a pass from the sophomore. His three touchdowns in the first half, with the third coming just seconds into the second quarter, were ideal for South Summit to jump out to a quick lead.
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His tenure, however, was short-lived. Atkinson's head bounced off the turf late in the second quarter after he was thrown to the ground, resulting in a concussion.
"We hope it's a quick recovery for Kael," Grajek said.
Using the team's fourth-string quarterback (with Parker Grajek being limited), the Wildcats threw Cole Reidhead, normally a slot receiver, under center to just keep the ship afloat.
So how did Reidhead do at a position he never plays? He throws a 73-yard touchdown strike to Brandon Dansie, one of the game's stars, on his first play from scrimmage.
"That [play] was huge," Grajek said. "We're four quarterbacks deep and he came in and [performed well]. I think it just shows the strength of our system with the weapons that we have, with our running backs and offensive line."
In addition to the touchdown, Dansie also caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Atkinson earlier in the game and ran another one in from four yards out. He even started the game on a positive note with an 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Throw in the two interceptions he reeled in on defense and you'd be hard-pressed to find a better single performance throughout the state.
"He had an unbelievable game," Grajek said.
Next up for South Summit is a semifinal date with San Juan, an opponent it has already seen this season, on Thursday. In fact, it was the first game of the season, where the Wildcats escaped with a 35-26 victory. With just one returning defensive starter — Broughton Flygare, who recovered a fumble and returned it 15 yards in the win over Enterprise — from last year's state runner-up team, the Wildcat defense was essentially a new unit in the first matchup with the Broncos.
"That was basically a JV team playing in the first game of the season," Grajek said. "So, we'll see where our growth has come in. We're excited for Thursday's ball game."
It doesn't take much to get high school players amped up about the state semifinals, but the Wildcats are even more excited about having starting quarterback Beasley back. As a dynamic dual-threat out of the backfield and a well-liked player on the team, Beasley will aid in South Summit's quest to return to the 2A state championship game.
"He's a senior, he's a voted captain," Grajek said of Beasley. "Going into such a big game, I think we are excited to have Nick back. The kids are excited."
South Summit and San Juan are scheduled to kick off at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday from Weber State University. The winner will advance to the UHSAA 2A title game.