Chandler deep, while Bethany's depth shrinks
By Zach West
If any one thing highlighted the Bethany-Chandler scrimmage – other than the lightning streaking across the sky in the background – it was probably the importance of having depth in Class 2A football. While the two highly-rated squads battled to a defensive, scoreless draw in the first half of the scrimmage, it was Chandler – with a bevy of skilled running backs and receivers – who took control of the contest in the end.
“We’re loaded with skill kids,” Chandler head coach Neal Bacon said. “It’s a blessing.”
At the front of that ‘blessed’ list is junior quarterback/safety Jack Gray, whose 65-yard touchdown pass to receiver Marlin Lewis proved to be the only first-team scoring of the scrimmage by either squad. Gray is coming off of a stellar sophomore season in which he threw for 1,500 yards and rushed for 500 more. According to my unofficial statistics, Gray threw for nearly 100 yards and also had several strong runs, including a 24-yarder near the beginning of the contest. And at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, Gray is an imposing figure at safety, making several key tackles in the secondary.
“He just makes our life a whole lot easier,” Bacon said. “He’s a quiet leader who goes out and leads by example. The other kids respect him and follow him.”
Of course, Gray is just the tip of the iceberg. Chandler’s running game has four – yes, I said four – quality tailbacks. While juniors Johnny Morton and Austin Major lead the group, T.J. Tillis and Marcus Thrash aren’t far behind. In fact, it was Tillis and Thrash who ran wild Friday night – albeit against the Bethany second-teamers – while Morton and Major were bottled up by Bethany’s frontline. Tillis had a tackle-breaking 30-yard scamper, while Thrash hurtled into the end zone from 20-yards out for a score.
What’s crazier is that I haven’t even talked about wide receivers yet, who possibly had the best night of anyone. At the head of this crew is Kyle Martzal, who converted to the position from quarterback when Gray took over. But Friday night, it was Lewis who shone the brightest. The senior used his fingertips to haul in Gray’s bomb, and then proceeded to pick off Bethany star J.P. Grasmick twice in a matter of minutes on defense.
“It felt good,” Lewis said. “I just sat right behind the short routes, (Grasmick) overthrew the receivers, and I was ready.”
And while they played impressively at times, it was Bethany – already struggling to find quality underclassmen to back up a talented group of seniors – who possibly took a major hit when all-purpose senior running back/slot receiver Chris Ballew suffered a left knee injury late in the scrimmage.
On Grasmick’s second interception, Ballew – the intended receiver – planted to try and come back to the pass, but was hit at the same time. While the play was immediately whistled dead, Ballew still wound up on the ground, clutching his leg. After being helped off the field, Ballew went to the locker room, where he emerged an hour later on crutches with a large bandage wrapped around the knee. While the knee won’t get checked on until tomorrow, the Bethany trainer said it was likely a severe injury.
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