September 5, 2009 11:12:00 PM
Zak Thrasher looks different.
At 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, Thrasher appears physically to be the same quarterback who helped lead the New Hope High School football team to the third round of the Class 4A North Half state playoffs.
A year ago, Thrasher had up-and-coming sophomore Terrence Dentry and do-everything senior Josh Ferguson to turn to to help the Trojans go.
This season, Thrasher still has Dentry and even more weapons to choose from, and given he seems to be more comfortable under center, there is no telling how far he will be able to take his team.
Judging from Thrasher''s performance Friday night, the Trojans could take another step closer to a state title this season.
Thrasher threw for 178 yards and two touchdown passes to lead New Hope to a 42-7 victory against Amory.
The junior left-hander was 7-for-11 with no interceptions. He hooked up with Johnny Beamon on touchdown passes of 43 and 50 yards to help New Hope improve to 2-0 entering its bye week.
"I think I am doing better than last year," Thrasher said. "I am making better decisions and I am not throwing the ball just out there. I am making sure somebody is open and if they are not there I will throw it out of bounds. I don''t make the stupid mistakes that I made last year."
Thrasher said he always was down on himself last year and that that attitude might have affected his play.
This year, he said he is trying to shake off a bad play after it happens and look to the next one. He also is trying to get his teammates to have the same kind of focus.
Against Amory, Thrasher played with poise and showed fine touch.
Leading 7-0, Thrasher used the perfect amount of deception on a fourth-and-8 from the Amory 43. He dropped back and looked to his right for what appeared to be a bubble screen. Just as it seemed time would run out on the play, he turned to his left and found Beamon, who scampered down the left sideline to extend the margin to 13-0.
"We threw the ball real well tonight," New Hope High coach Michael Bradley said. "Zak did a good job of reading what the defense gave him and finding some open holes. Our receivers, for the most part, caught the football tonight."
Bradley said he was pleased to come away with a victory after a week in which more than 20 players missed some practice time leading up to the game.
He has said all along that the Trojans have a chance this season to be a pretty good football team if they execute and limit their mistakes.
Thrasher''s ability to manage games will play a key role in the team''s success. Thrasher said last year gave him valuable experience that has prepared him to do even more this season.
"Last year I was kind of scared almost," Thrasher said. "This year, I am more comfortable and I am not as fidgety as I was last year."
One of Thrasher''s few incompletions came in the second quarter, but the pass was there, only to fall of his receiver''s fingers.
Thrasher made up for it on the next play.
In what could have been a page out of University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow''s jump throwing playbook, Thrasher lofted a pass into the arms of Beamon, who broke from the right up the gut for a 50-yard score that made it 20-0.
Tanner Ryals, who was 6-for-6 on extra points, made it 21-0 with 10 minutes, 23 seconds to play in the second quarter.
After the score, Thrasher celebrated with his teammates on the sidelines. He made a point to congratulate his offensive linemen, who protected him well all evening.
Thrasher said he isn''t doing more of that kind of behind-the-scenes work, but he feels like he is more of a team leader and is working harder to be an even better quarterback.
"I like to make sure my lineman are happy because if they are not I am not going to be a very happy person, either," Thrasher said.
Amory coach Pat Byrd noticed the difference.
Last year, Amory beat New Hope 23-20 in Amory. This year''s Panthers are younger, especially at the skill positions, but sophomore quarterback Forest Williams (9-for-16, 74 yards, two interceptions) showed promise, just like the rest of his team.
Byrd said the Panthers can''t afford mistakes (Williams'' two interceptions helped set up two of New Hope''s first-half scores) against quality opponents like New Hope.
"I see a football program here, and that hasn''t been the case in the last few years," Byrd said. "Their middle school program is good, and they''re getting kids and keeping them out. That is what a program is, when you maintain."
Lester Freeman recovered a fumble on New Hope''s first possession of the second half and returned it 51 yards for a touchdown. The extra point made it 28-7.
Amory (0-3) had a chance to cut into the lead even more, but it couldn''t convert a fourth-and-2 from the New Hope 34 with a little more than five minutes to play in the third quarter.
Another touch pass from Thrasher -- this one a 31-yarder to Beamon between two defenders -- helped set up Darius Petty''s 4-yard touchdown that gave the Trojans the momentum.
"We''re inexperienced in key spots and they don''t know how to respond to certain things," Byrd said. "We did some things better tonight than we did last week, but it is dadgum painful now."
Bradley, who was "sick as a dog" earlier in the week, said it is imperative for New Hope to use the off week to get well. He said there are a lot of areas that the Trojans can improve.
It seems Thrasher already has done that at quarterback, which could pay big dividends in November and December.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.