Prep football: Juan Diego sports three-headed rushing attack

Prep football • Soaring Eagle have scored at least 20 points in five of their six games.
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Sandy • What Juan Diego does in its running game isn't magic, but it's not far from it.

The Soaring Eagle have mastered the art of illusion, the sleight of hand. Did quarterback Nick Markosian hand the ball to Chase Williams on a dive play? Or did he tuck the ball and run around the right end?

Did Markosian just pitch the ball to Jessie Springer, or did he step back and throw over the defense for a big gain?

All four plays are options every time Juan Diego lines up on offense. All four options have proven equally difficult to solve for opposing defenses. And that has produced some magical results.

"You're never sure who has the ball," said Springer, a junior who also plays linebacker. "You think the dive back got it, but then Nick will keep it and run for a 30-yard touchdown. You're always second-guessing yourself and not going full speed because you're constantly guessing."

The three-headed running monster is a big reason why Juan Diego enters the week as one of three unbeaten teams in Class 3A. With Markosian's 420 yards leading the way, the three have combined for more than 1,100 yards and 15 of the team's 20 rushing touchdowns.

The Soaring Eagle have scored 20 or more points in all but one game, and the split-back veer offense is responsible for the offensive domination.

"It's quick-hitting and if you don't react fast, we're gaining 4 yards before you even see who has the ball," said Markosian, a senior. "The quick-hitting nature of it is probably the best aspect."

Markosian, who stands 6 foot 3, is the finesse runner in the group, but all three will lower a shoulder to take on would-be tacklers. Splitting the workload among three backs also keeps each fresh in the second half.

"We are able to sustain drives longer and helps us have fresh legs," Springer said. "I know I feel more fresh than if I was a single back."

Williams, who has six rushing touchdowns after his two-TD performance against Union last week, said the teammates have a friendly rivalry when it comes to yardage and end zone appearances, but each is more than happy to lay a block to free a ball carrier.

"It's a friendly competition, but we're all just out there supporting each other," said Williams, a junior. "There really isn't a favorite. We all seem to get equal amounts of opportunities."

Juan Diego has made a name for itself with defense in recent years. The Soaring Eagle shut out four opponents a season ago. They have held three teams to fewer than 10 points this season, including a shutout against Union last Friday.

A dominant running game and equally as effective defense have players thinking about another state title. Juan Diego has won three of the past four Class 3A titles and produced an unbeaten season in 2008.

"I think we can get to the state title," Williams said. "I think we can go all the way if we keep our mind-set."

While the running game has delivered in each game thus far, there could be cause for concern in the postseason. Running teams typically aren't built to play from behind, and the Soaring Eagle will be tested in the later rounds of the playoffs.

Can they move the ball down the field with urgency and score in bunches, if needed in November?

"We have good receivers and we throw the ball pretty well," Markosian said. "Teams are expecting us to run, so when we pass, it's effective. We just don't utilize it as much because the run is all we really need." —

On the run

Juan Diego (6-0) is averaging nearly 220 yards rushing per game through six weeks this season.

Three players – quarterback Nick Markosian and running backs Chase Williams and Jessie Springer – share the rushing duties.

The trio has combined for more than 1,100 yards and 15 of the team's 25 offensive touchdowns.