Manny Harris’ debut could be viewed as an anomaly.
It could also be seen as a trend.
Copperas Cove’s junior quarterback threw for a whopping 516 yards in his first varsity start last week against A&M Consolidated, attempting 51 passes in the process. The sheer volume is impressive, but the numbers are unheard of in Copperas Cove.
Harris became the first player in school history to throw for 300 yards in a game, let alone 500, and his 34 completions equal the second most attempts ever by a Bulldawg prior to last Friday.
Not to be overlooked, Copperas Cove also delivered its customary strong showing on the ground, gaining 181 yards with a 5.2 yard-per-carry average, but the offense became more pass heavy over time, culminating with Harris’ 11-of-17 passing performance in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t have any intention to throw that much,” Bulldawgs head coach Jack Welch said. “We think that we definitely can throw the football, but every game that we go into we are going to either run it or throw it based on what the defense gives us, and we are prepared to do either.”
In the final 12 minutes, Harris accounted for three touchdowns and 254 yards, which by itself would currently rank as the fourth most passing yards in a single game in school history.
The game went from 20 to 100 mph almost instantly as the teams combined to score 44 of the game’s 85 total points in the final four minutes.
Nevertheless, relying heavily on a quarterback’s sound decisions and strong arm is becoming a popular approach around the state. Lake Travis and Southlake Carroll are just a couple recent powerhouses to capitalize on a spread offense, winning a combined 10 state championships since 2002, and former Dragons head coach Todd Dodge, who reached the state finals five consecutive seasons from 2002 to 2006, continues to make history on the arm of his quarterbacks.
Last season, in just his fourth game as Marble Falls head coach, former Salado and Mustangs quarterback Mike Richardson completed 33 of 42 passes for 724 yards in a 62-55 victory against Boerne Champion, giving the senior Texas’ first ever 700-yard passing performance. The accomplishment ranks a mere 40 yards away from tying the national mark.
Belton is routinely the most pass-heavy team in the area with 58 percent of its offense in 2012 coming through the air.
No other team in District 8-5A even topped 45 percent, especially not Copperas Cove, which finished the regular season with 67 percent of their offense coming via the run.
Despite the Bulldawgs being considered a run-oriented team — Welch believes his team is historically built around offensive balance — Harris is flattered.
“It’s an honor to actually open up our offense like that and be the first person to do that,” he said. “It just shows how much they trust me.”
In actuality, while never to such a degree, the Bulldawgs have been throwing the ball more than ever of late. In his lone season under center, Robbie Seybold delivered the fourth most passing yards in a season (1,497) last year and also posted a pair of games with 31 pass attempts, giving him two of the top six outings in the category entering the year.
While it is doubtful Harris will top 500 yards many more times, he is already well on his way to surpassing another of Robert Griffin III’s school records. Griffin’s 2006 season saw the current Washington Redskins quarterback throw for 2,007 yards, including a 293-yard passing outburst against Killeen to set the single-game record Harris eclipsed last week.
Assuming the Bulldawgs play at least one playoff game — a feat they have achieved in 14 of the previous 15 seasons — Harris needs to average 150 passing yards to game to claim the record.
“Any time you have players excel, you are excited about that,” Welch said, “and, of course, having your junior quarterback do something like Manny did, you know you have a great future. So, we are very excited about Manny.”
The only thing tarnishing Harris’ stellar start to the season was the outcome.
A&M Consolidated erased Bulldawgs kicker Jayson Stanley’s go-ahead field goal with one second remaining by taking the ensuing squib kickoff 50 yards for a touchdown that was replayed repeatedly by nation media outlets throughout the weekend. Although Harris set a couple records in the defeat, the final play robbed him of the only record he truly desires — a winning one.
“It felt amazing,” Harris said of his performance. “It felt unreal at a few points in the game. Stats are great, and you want those things, but it is a team thing, and we lost the game. So, it really doesn’t mean anything.”