QB duel had fans buzzing

The question was posed throughout the season by all kinds of fans, coaches, players and media who follow high school football in the Mahoning Valley, and the debate picked up quite a bit over the last week.

The area’s two best quarterbacks (arguably) finally squared off, and the result was an epic duel that won’t soon be forgotten.

Girard’s Mark Waid and Lakeview’s Zach Rogers put on a show during their Division IV, Region 13 first-round playoff game — with one player making a big play only to be outdone by his counterpart on the next drive. And even after the game, the question as to who is the better quarterback went on. Despite the Indians’ 33-31 victory, the answer isn’t as easy as winner-take-all.

Before we delve into the debate, let’s take in what was a game for the ages.

Both players were phenomenal in a matchup that had most of the county talking and was played in front of a standing-room only crowd in Cortland. With mounds of pressure on their shoulders — because of the duel and because their seasons were on the line — Rogers, a senior, and Waid, a junior, stepped up and delivered on the biggest stage. Neither threw an interception and the pair combined for seven TDs and nearly 800 total yards.

Regardless of who anyone believes is the better QB, it’s fair to say these two are the cream of the crop as far as passing quarterbacks in the area. They each will go down as one of the best to play the position at their respective schools, which is impressive in itself considering the players who have come before them. But, just for the sake of comparison, let’s take a closer look at the two strong-armed QBs.

The easier answer is Waid. He was not only on the winning team, but he put up superior numbers, completing 27-of-42 passes for 384 yards and three TDs. He also ran for 112 yards and two TDs on 27 carries. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Waid didn’t panic with his team down 10-0 in the first quarter. He became more focused and was spectacular in the final three quarters, when the Indians outscored Lakeview, 33-21.

The pass Waid threw over the middle to wide receiver Michael Belcik (who also had a huge game and deserves a ton of credit for Waid’s big day) split two defenders and hit Belcik in stride. Moreover, it was third-and-18, so the defense was in position and only a perfect throw would do.

The naysayers will point out Waid made quite a few mistakes. The Bulldogs probably dropped as many as four interceptions, including on the second play of the game when a defender couldn’t corral what would have been a pick-six. Any of the would-be interceptions could have changed the game — along with Waid’s confidence and rhythm. Nonetheless, Waid made the plays needed to win.

Then there’s Rogers, whose numbers weren’t as gaudy but who was equally effective. He was a bit more efficient as he relied on a more conventional running game in completing 12-of-21 passes for 261 yards and two TDs. He lobbed a couple high-arcing passes right into the bread-basket of receivers running downfield.

It’s hard to understand how his timing was so on point that he could make such accurate throws under pressure. Only countless hours of practice and extra work allow for such precision, which speaks to the work ethic of the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Rogers.

Pundits will again say he, too, made a few errors. The biggest was taking a sack on third-and-14, which essentially took the Bulldogs out of field goal range late in the game. But that “mistake” is part of what makes this argument so hard to debate.

A quarterback’s success is heavily reliant on how the people around them play. The line has to be in sync and recognize stunts and blitzes. Receivers have to run the right routes and make tough catches. Running backs have to provide balance with a rushing attack, and coaches have to call plays in a way that not only allows the QB to find a rhythm but also takes advantage of the team’s strengths.

In other words, it has to be a perfect storm.

Another difficult factor is that Waid and Rogers are different types of QBs. Waid is a dual threat, and while he’s definitely a great pocket passer, he also thrives and manipulates defensive backs by making big plays with his feet. Rogers has some mobility, but he’s more of the prototypical dropback QB. There was a report that he played the final five games of the season with a broken bone in his leg, so who knows how a healthy Rogers could have performed.

The final answer is one that’s impossible to compute. On this day, Waid was slightly better — in some ways — but if those two teams played 10 times, my guess is they each win five, with Waid and Rogers being as equally effective as they were last Friday. One thing’s for certain, they’re two of the best quarterbacks the area has seen in the past 20 years. That should be enough for anyone arguing one way or another.