Playing quarterback at Cabell Midland is a little different than most other places. OK, it’s a lot different.
For one thing, the dropbacks are few and far between. The run-pass options are virtually nonexistent, since the Knights seldom throw the ball. But all of that is all right for J.J. Roberts, the quarterback who directs the offense for unbeaten and second-seeded Midland (12-0), the Mountain State Athletic Conference champion.
The Knights gun for their second-ever trip to the Wheeling Super Six when they host familiar rival and No. 3 seed Spring Valley (11-1) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Class AAA playoff semifinals. The winner plays in the state championship game at noon on Saturday, Dec. 7 at Wheeling Island Stadium.
Roberts, a 6-foot, 185-pound senior who might be better known as a cornerback — having already committed back in May to play at Wake Forest — took over at quarterback for the Knights this season and has grown into that role.
When the season started, Roberts and sophomore Chandler Schmidt were expected to split time at quarterback, but Schmidt’s ankle injury in the opener changed those plans, giving Roberts the bulk of the snaps. Schmidt only recently returned to practice.
Roberts stands second on the team in rushing with 1,304 yards and leads Midland with 23 touchdown runs. Jakob Caudill tops the Knights with 1,626 yards and 14 TDs.
Roberts averages a robust 10.7 yards per carry, which shows his breakaway capability. Twice this season he’s run for four TDs in a game (Parkersburg and Princeton) and three other times he’s scored thrice (Spring Valley, South Charleston, George Washington).
But one thing you won’t see Roberts doing much is putting the ball in the air. In half of Midland’s 12 games so far, he hasn’t attempted a single pass. But he doesn’t mind at all.
“You know how it is with our offense,’’ Roberts said with a grin. “Coach [Luke] Salmons doesn’t really throw the ball unless we really have to. But as long as we don’t have to throw it, as long as we can drive the ball like we’ve done, then I don’t think there’s any need to throw the ball.’’
For the season, Roberts is 12 of 21 passing for 360 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. When he does throw it, he makes it count, averaging 30 yards per completion.
Midland certainly doesn’t lack for offense, since it cranks out 401 yards per game on the ground.
“We work on passing,’’ Salmons said earlier this season. “We spend time on it every day. We just do whatever it takes to win. If we feel like we can’t run or move the ball, we’ll throw. It’s just who we are and the kind of kids we have. They’re tough, and they’ve bought into that [style of offense]. It gives our kids a chance and it helps our team. It fits what we do, but I love the concept of throwing the ball and everything.
“We spend a ton of time on the option and no one runs it in the state of West Virginia. J.J. averages [a lot of] yards per carry because he’s very athletic, but it’s well-executed, too. It’s a system that allows that, but at the same time we work hard on the details and studying practice film.’’
Salmons said even though the Knights seldom ask Roberts to throw the ball, he doesn’t think it permits defenses to bring extra defenders into the tackle box and crowd the line of scrimmage.
“When you’re running the option, it’s hard to load the box,’’ Salmons said, “because you’ve got to defend the whole field. We don’t mind when people stack the box because we have bigger plays off that when people commit to the run.
“In a nutshell, more or less, we do what we do. We worry about us. A lot of teams worry about what they’re going to do, but we worry about getting better.’’