By Jeff Nations
FRONT ROYAL -- Corban Ruch made the most of his second shot as Skyline High School's starting quarterback on Saturday night against Brentsville.
The sophomore completed three long touchdown passes among his nine completions for 270 yards, including a game-winning screen that teammate Marcus Turner turned into a 29-yard touchdown reception with less than two minutes to play in the Hawks' 40-37 road victory.
It sure beat Ruch's first taste of action as Skyline's starter two weeks before in the season opener against Skyline. Ruch, new to the program after moving into the area over the summer from Indiana, was on the field for just a handful of snaps before he took a painful shot to his upper chest. He was carted off the field after that play and taken to a local hospital, where Ruch learned he'd suffered a bruised sternum.
"When it first happens, you're like, 'Oh, what'd I do,'" said Ruch, who is The Northern Virginia Daily's Male Athlete of the Week of Sept. 8-Sept. 14. "It took a little bit, but when I was in the hospital they said, 'Oh, you should be fine.' So I was pretty relieved to be able to get back pretty soon."
Ruch had to watch the Hawks' loss to Fauquier the following week from the sidelines, even though he'd been able to practice some leading up to that game. If he'd had his way, Ruch would've been out there then.
"He actually wanted to play the next week," Skyline coach Heath Gilbert said. "He got hurt Friday night, Saturday we have a weightlifting session that we do and he was here. He obviously didn't lift, but he's all in. He tried to get right back in there on Monday and it was like, 'Whoa, we've got to make sure you're medically cleared first. You were carted off in an ambulance.' It turned out where they wouldn't let him play the [next] week, which I think obviously was the safest thing to do for him.
"He got back in rhythm and he did really well for us on Saturday night."
That he did, especially when it mattered most for Skyline. The host Tigers grabbed a 37-33 lead with just 3:05 to play, and Ruch took the field with the Hawks' offense needing to go 85 yards for a touchdown. On the first play of the drive, Ruch helped get 52 yards with a long completion to Jamal Parker. One play later, he hit Turner for the eventual game-winner.
"It was fun to be back on the field, definitely, to be able to play with the team," Ruch said. "My offensive line did a great job blocking for me, so I wasn't ever really anxious back in the pocket. My receivers ran great routes and gave me a target to throw to. It was just a lot of fun being back."
Turner made it even more fun, as he converted two screen passes into long touchdowns, the first a 76-yard score late in the opening quarter.
"Marcus made two really big plays for us," Ruch said. "It was like a screen, stay pass. The blocking was there, he just made people miss and he got up the field and scored."
Ruch didn't dink and dunk the offense down the field all night -- he had several deep completions, including a 45-yard touchdown pass to Parker in the second quarter.
"He completed a couple deep balls that went down for big chunks of yards for us -- another one was dropped that would have been a touchdown," Gilbert said.
Ruch's return also helped open up the offense for Skyline, which had to use Jerrius Baltimore full-time at quarterback against Fauquier. Baltimore is the Hawks' best running back, and basically had to play that game out of position despite having some experience at quarterback running the team's 'Wild Hawk' wildcat package.
"It makes it so much better as a team, offensively, when he's our quarterback and Jerrius is our running back," Gilbert said. "We have such different kinds of running backs after Jerrius.
"... Jerrius gives us that cutback ability that we want, so all that stuff in our packages that we want to run is complete -- or gives us the best chance - with those two together."
Just an underclassman, Ruch has proven steady in the huddle for Skyline. Gilbert expects him to grow even more into a vocal, take-charge leader as he matures and settles in with the Hawks.
"He has good command in the huddle, which I like," Gilbert said. "I stressed with him from Day 1 back in the summer, 'If it's your fault or not, I'm going to hold you accountable for the offense. You're the man in there.' He does a good job of making sure everyone is on board and not jacking around in the huddle."
After that involuntary time off, Ruch is just glad to contribute again for Skyline.
"It took me a couple plays to kind of get back into it," Ruch said. "That's just because I did have to sit out a week. But like I said, hats off to my offensive line for making it much easier on me and giving me the time I needed to be able to make those throws."