State history was made Sept. 11 in a 4A South Puget Sound League crossover football game when visiting Tahoma High School defeated Rogers, 48-41, at Sparks Stadium.
The score was not as important as the passing yards that were racked up that night. Amandre Williams of Tahoma and Griffen Stacy of Rogers became the first high school quarterbacks in Washington to throw for 500 or more yards in the same game.
By The News Tribune’s count, the 6-foot-3 Williams completed 37 of 50 passes for 579 yards and five touchdowns. Not only was that passing total a new SPSL record, it ranks No. 2 all-time in state history behind Shadle Park standout Brett Rypien’s 613, set last season.
Stacy’s effort was not far off the pace. He was 29-for-52 for 500 yards and six TDs.
Those totals elicited the same are-you-kidding-me smile and brief shake of the head from both coaches — Tahoma’s Tony Davis and Rogers’ Gene Bowen.
When Davis took over at Tahoma some 20 years ago, he ran the wishbone offense with future University of Washington and NFL defensive back Omare Lowe at quarterback. Those types of passing numbers would have been unfathomable.
“If you would have told me five years ago that one of my kids would throw for 500 yards, I would have laughed,” Davis said. “In fact, me and one of my assistant coaches on that staff with Lowe did laugh, because I don’t think we threw for that total in that first season.”
Much like the NFL and college, high school passing numbers are skyrocketing. Prep teams are copying the offenses used at those levels, making nights where a high school quarterback throws for 500 yards likely to happen more in the future.
Even though the spread offense has been around for almost 90 years, the idea didn’t really catch on until the late 1980s with the inception of the “run-and-shoot” offense.
The term spread offense refers to the horizontal stretching of the field, usually by multiple-receiver sets. And that makes it hard to defend.
“The hardest thing about defending it is it is not one offense,” said University of Puget Sound coach Jeff Thomas, whose Loggers run the spread. “The wishbone, the split-T, the West Coast offense — you have a vision of what they are, and people know those games. The spread offense is not one single entity. It is truthfully the idea of spreading the field.”
Thomas points to what the University of Oregon does — the Ducks predominantly use the formation to run out of it. And at Washington State University? There is a reason why quarterback Connor Halliday leads the country in passing yards.
“You can run Oregon’s zone-read out of it, or WSU’s pass-it-every-single-down out of it, or something in between,” Thomas said.
By 2012, Davis and his coaching staff at Tahoma were ready to change their power-running offense. So they implemented the no-huddle, shotgun-spread offense.
“In the old scheme, if you are really disciplined, especially against good defenses, you could put together long scoring drives 4 to 5 yards at a time,” Davis said. “But what we realized, you have to have a play to get big chunks of yards because it was hard to go 80 yards at 4 to 5 yards at a time.”
Davis, also the school’s athletic director, walked the hallways and saw an opportunity to recruit athletes with an offense that played fast, gained yards and scored points.
“We had kids who were not crazy about what was going on with Tahoma football,” Davis said. “To spread it out, now you could go to the point guard on the basketball team and tell him in the new offense, he could catch 30 to 40 passes. We’ve reaped the benefit of that.”
In this area, the offense has spread like wildfire. Ten years ago — of the 66 high school programs The News Tribune wrote preview capsules on — 15 ran the spread as their base offense. This season, that number has more than doubled to 32.
Another advantage of the offense is being able to get more snaps, which leads to more chances to score.
In the old SPSL days in the 1980s and early 1990s — when Lakes played playoff powerhouses such as Puyallup, Curtis, Rogers, Clover Park, even Spanaway Lake, who balanced runs and passes — the average amount of plays the Lancers would run would be between 50 and 60, said coach Dave Miller, who was then the school’s offensive coordinator.
Now, Miller hopes he can get 75 to 80 offensive snaps in a 48-minute game.
“I like it. I think it’s fun and exciting for the kids,” Miller said. “You get more players involved. The fans like it. It’s good for the game.”
And now, records are being set.
Williams’ showing on Sept. 11 broke former teammate Shane Nelson’s SPSL single-game passing record of 508 yards, set last season against Kentlake.
Rypien’s monster game last season against Mount Spokane in which he threw for 613 yards is not only the state record, but a top-20 mark nationally. Shadle Park runs a hurry-up spread offense.
And look at what North Carolina prepster Will Grier accomplished in 2012. As the Davidson Day School quarterback, Grier threw for 837 yards in a 104-80 victory over Harrells Christian Academy. That national record came out of a no-huddle spread offense.
Most point to the offense as the primary reason 300-yard passing performances seem to happen with regularity. But the quarterbacks are better, too — and far more prepared and organized than they used to be.
It was a mere 12 hours after the pass-crazy affair that Bowen had uploaded the game film for his players to watch.
The first one to view it was Stacy, who watched all of the team’s 78 offensive snaps all before his third-period class started.
“There were a lot of 10- to 12-yard out routes I threw, and there were a lot of yards (amassed) after the catch,” Stacy said. “That is when it set in how many yards I threw for.
“It was like a video game.”
One of the other connections between Stacy and Williams is they both regularly work with quarterback gurus through the Barton Football Academy, based out of Portland.
Year-round work is now a requisite, Stacy said.
“In the offseason, I really worked on footwork and mechanics, because I felt like I had a problem driving the football (on passes),” Stacy said. “And during the season, I watch film at least an hour a night. It starts with watching the game we just played, and seeing not only my mistakes, but maybe what our offense can do better, all in an effort of being a better teammate. And then I watch film on the team we play upcoming … just studying their defensive tendencies.”
Jordan Kitna, the quarterback at Lincoln High School, has also attended Barton camps even though his father, Jon, spent 16 years in the NFL as a quarterback.
“Numbers have gotten so gaudy in high school where kids are throwing for 450 yards every week, but doing it by not once throwing it over 10 yards on a play — and that is not realistic,” said Jon Kitna, now in his third season as the Lincoln coach.
“Because colleges are now watching everything, from footwork to all the little stuff you do outside football season … getting out to camps is beneficial, especially for guys up here. Quarterbacks from California, Florida and Texas can be outside all year long, and this is a way for us to keep up with that.”
‘A PERFECT STORM’
While the passing numbers keep increasing it still takes a special set of circumstances — big plays, porous defense and a near-equal amount of scoring — to produce a national record.
That’s exactly what happened when Grier set the record with 837 yards.
“That game just happened to be a perfect storm of explosive offensive football,” Davidson Day coach Chad Grier said, “and a nightmare for both defensive coordinators.”
Last week, Tahoma and Rogers went back-and-forth.
For Tahoma, Williams was on point with every throw, utilizing a host of wide receivers that included Cole Peckham, Tyson Cronin, Jacob Kutch and even tailback Marvis Bailey — all of whom caught touchdown passes. And 23 of his completions were for 10 yards or longer — but only three were of 40 yards or longer.
“My arm felt fine,” Williams said. “It wasn’t as sore as my body.”
And for Rogers, all six of Stacy’s touchdown throws were hauled in by Kyler Ooley, who scored on plays of 64, 71 and 78 yards.
“I had never seen an athlete … take over a game like that,” Stacy said about his teammate.
Looking forward, expect to see more passes and passing yards. And maybe even a record.
“Anything can happen in a football game,” Stacy said. “What (Williams and I) did, I could see it happening again — in the next game or 20 years from now.”