Armed and dangerous

Quarterbacks will play major role for area teams with start of postseason

BIG RAPIDS — In football, the position of quarterback brings many responsibilities with it. A quarterback is expected to be a leader, a motivator and a field general all at the same time while trying to complete passes and avoid getting destroyed by the opposing defense. With the first round of the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) football playoffs starting up tonight, the four area teams that are in the playoffs are hoping that their signal callers will be able to lead them to victory. In Division 5, the Reed City Coyotes (9-0) will host Clare (7-2) in the first round as the Coyotes will look to senior quarterback Chad Samuels to help the Coyotes move on to the next round of the postseason. For Reed City coach Monty Price, having a three-year starter under center has opened things up for the Coyotes' offense that has been known for being a run-first team in the past. "I think the way Chad has progressed, it's taken us to a new level on offense," Price said. "We still look to establish the ground game and we always will, but now teams have to decide if they're going to either stop our running game or our passing game. "We'll change our gameplan depending on what a defense shows us," he continued. "If they want to load up a bunch of guys in the box, we have plenty of weapons that Chad can get the ball to on the outside." While Samuels has progressed as a passer, he still possesses the ability to hurt teams on the ground as he rushed for more than 250 yards and five touchdowns on the ground while piling up 950 yards and 11 scores through the air this season. While his dual-threat abilities have made him a dangerous quarterback, Price said the biggest benefit Samuels brings to the field is his leadership abilities. "What he's really done that separates him from other quarterbacks is he leads by example," Price said. "He's never a guy that gets in your face and tries to embarrass someone. He's always trying to inspire his teammates and he's always positive. He gives his best at everything he does and his teammates see that and know they can count on him." In Division 4, Chippewa Hills (6-3) will travel to Cadillac (9-0) to battle against the Vikings. The Warriors will be relying on junior quarterback Hunter Conley, who Chippewa Hills coach Larry Jose said can take over a game with his athleticism. "Hunter's an unbelievable athlete," he said. "He's not a polished quarterback and he's got a long way to go with that aspect of the game, but don't get me wrong, he's doing an outstanding job for us." While Conley has thrown for close to 500 yards and four touchdowns this season, his biggest impact has come on the ground where he piled up 768 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 9.48 yards per carry. "His biggest attribute is his big play capability," Jose said. "He broke away for more long runs a lot more in the early part of the season and he hasn't broke off as many long runs since teams got a chance to look at tape and figure out they have to cover the quarterback coming out of the backfield. "But you look at our game against Hesperia and he came in and ran everything out of the I-formation without any experience with that and he was a big reason why we won that game," Jose added. In the Division 7 bracket, Evart (7-2) will face off against a Carson City-Crystal team (9-0) that the Wildcats defeated 16-12 in the first round of last year's playoffs. The Wildcats will be able to rely on senior quarterback Jacob Fortune, who threw for more than 1,700 yards and 24 touchdowns while completing 60 percent of his passes in a high-octane offense. Evart coach Pat Craven said while Fortune has always had the arm, he took a huge step forward this season with the mental aspect of his game. "Jacob's always had a really good arm," Craven said. "This season, we really worked with him on reading coverages and figuring out what the other team is doing defensively and he has really made strides in that part of his game." Craven said the emergence of weapons like receivers Jacob Hopkins and Jared Pattee and Josh Decator at tight end has helped Fortune and the Wildcats' offense to establish a potent passing attack that many high school teams dream of. "This is my 10th year here and this is one of the few years where I've had the offensive weapons to really open up the passing game," he said. "Small town football in Northern Michigan is usually all about stopping the run because most teams don't have the athletes to run a balanced offense between the run and the pass. "Having that ability really allows us to put the defense in a tough position because they have to pick what they're going to try and stop," he added. Looking at Division 8, Baldwin (7-2) will travel to Fowler (7-2) in a rematch of last year's first-round matchup where Fowler beat the Panthers, 42-0. The Panthers will look to their dual-threat leader at quarterback in senior Brandon Childress to lead them to victory. Childress passed for more than 970 yards and 11 touchdowns while rushing for more than 1,000 yards and 19 scores on the ground this season. "We knew coming back this year that we had a special player at quarterback," Baldwin coach Doug Bolles said. "He's done everything we've needed him to do. He leads us and he wants the ball in his hands. He's just a gamer." While Childress' playmaking abilities are often on display, Bolles said it's the leadership he provides in the huddle on gameday that makes him special. "He's a leader and the other guys notice that," he said. "It just gives the kids the confidence that if the other team tries to take something away from our offense, Brandon can make a play either through the air or on the ground."