Wildcats’ QB competition unsettled

By Brad Fauber

FRONT ROYAL — Warren County’s football team is prepping for this week’s season opener against cross-town rival Skyline, but Wildcats first-year coach Steve Crist is still unsure about who will be his team’s starting quarterback on Friday night.

Junior Robert Rutherford and sophomore Cameron Ford entered fall practice as the front-runners to grab the majority of the snaps for Warren County this season, but as of Monday’s practice neither had claimed the job outright.

“We’re still evaluating them. It would not be outside the realm for both of them to play,” said Crist, who acknowledged the challenges that come with operating a two-quarterback system but added that the coaching staff will do whatever it thinks gives Warren County the best chance to win.

Crist had said after the Wildcats’ first week of practice earlier this month that he hoped to be able to name a starting quarterback sooner rather than later, but neither Rutherford nor Ford has been able to create enough separation to allow Crist to make that decision.

“It hasn’t been the case yet,” Crist said. “That’s what you’d like, but we feel like we have two who can play and help us win. A lot of times you think, ‘Well, if you’ve got two you’ve got none,’ but we think that both of them do things well and they both will give us a chance to win.”

Of the two Warren County quarterbacks, Rutherford has the most varsity experience. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound junior served as the Wildcats’ No. 2 quarterback last season and started one game when former starter Austen Butler was sidelined with an injury. Rutherford completed 8 of 10 passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns in 2013.

Ford, a 5-foot-9, 155-pound sophomore, is in his first season at the varsity level after playing JV for the last two years, but he has shown more mobility than Rutherford so far, according to Crist.

Warren County’s offense — which Crist helped coach as an assistant from 2007 to 2012 before leaving for the head coaching job at Manassas Park last season — has utilized mobile quarterbacks strongly over the past several seasons as an extension of its run game.

“They both play multiple sports, so it’s not like one’s a statue back there and one can run around. They’re both good athletes, but Cam can make a few more plays with his feet and Robert’s got a little bit more experience,” said Crist, who wouldn’t rule out that a true starting quarterback could be named later this week.

GROUP EFFORT: The quarterback position isn’t the only spot where the Wildcats could see a rotation on offense this fall. Crist hasn’t tabbed anyone as Warren County’s “featured back” and will instead rely on a handful of players to carry the ground game.

“It’s going to be running back by committee,” Crist said. “We have some guys who have different strengths there, too, but they play both sides of the ball and run some special teams, so there’s no way we can go into a game with only one or two running backs.”

Last season, then-senior Demetrus Yates did most of the heavy lifting for the Wildcats’ offense, as he carried the ball 185 times for 1,463 yards and 13 touchdowns. Crist said Warren County’s running back competition this year contained about eight players when the team initially began fall camp, but that list has since been whittled down to four.

Crist said juniors Joseph Rutherford, Brian Croson and Randall Harris, as well as senior Will Spencer, will “definitely” see action in Warren County’s backfield this fall. None of those four have seen significant varsity time at running back.

“We evaluate all the time. We used our two scrimmages to evaluate. And it’s not just running the ball, it’s pass protections, it’s blocking, it’s knowing your assignments and really all of them have done some good things, but we’ve got it narrowed down,” Crist said.

ROLLER-COASTER RIDE: Warren County has completed two scrimmages this preseason and Crist said the Wildcats were largely up and down in terms of consistency during both.

“We’ve got to be more consistent all over the place, in offense, defense and even in special teams — though they haven’t been live, there were some lapses that we’ve just got to be more consistent and not let those negative plays happen,” Crist said.

The Wildcats lost a lot of valuable varsity experience to graduation from last year’s team, as 18 seniors helped lead Warren County (8-4 in 2013) to the second round of the Region 3A East playoffs. Many of the team’s current players are filling full-time varsity roles for the first time, though Crist didn’t think the team’s inconsistencies so far can necessarily be blamed on inexperience.

“I don’t know that I expect it,” Crist said of the inconsistency. “We think that we’ve got some pretty good players and we expect them to make the plays when they’re there and to execute the assignment. To say we expect it would mean that we might allow it and that’s not going to happen.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com