How valuable were junior Kevin Wagner's efforts to the Kenmore East football team Saturday?
Following the Bulldogs' 27-19 loss to arch-rival Kenmore West at Sparky Adams Field, coach Matt Chimera had to pause for a second to collect his thoughts before answering that question.
"He's done everything we've asked him to do," said Chimera, who plugged Wagner in at quarterback after three-year starter Jon Anthony Wiltberger was suspended for violating a school rule. "He's played quarterback, running back, fullback, tight end, linebacker. He's a football player and so is [Mike] Doherty. When this happened we knew we had to put the ball in their hands and do what we could do."
Wiltberger was 71 of 121 for 1,019 yards with eight touchdowns and had run for three more, but Chimera said he found out about 9 p.m. Friday that Wiltberger wouldn't be suiting up for his team any more this season.
Enter Wagner, who was a quarterback on the JV team but came into Saturday with 26 catches for 295 yards and three TDs.
"No one else could really do it so I knew it was up to me to step up and do it," said Wagner, who was 6 of 13 for 56 yards and completed his first four throws in the 50th meeting of the rivals. "I was excited about it, a little nervous at first, but things got rolling and I had a good time."
Wagner was key on all three Kenmore East scoring drives. On the first, he completed a 14-yard pass to Nick McEldowney, then held on to the ball until the very last second before pitching left to Doherty, who churned for 52 of his team-high 110 yards down the sideline and into the end zone.
In the second quarter, Wagner's 1-yard touchdown run capped a seven-play, 31-yard drive that was set up by a shanked punt. Wagner, who carried 16 times for 61 yards on the day, rushed for 23 yards on that drive, including an 11-yarder to the West 3.
In the third quarter, Wagner's 11-yard run for a first down came two plays before Doherty took it home from the 15.
"We did less than we normally do, we had to," said Chimera. "When you put Kevin at quarterback you don't have Kevin at receiver. And when you put Doherty at quarterback you don't have him at running back. That was the creative part of it, getting them in the right place at the right time to run what we wanted to run."
Still, the Bulldogs were behind just 21-19 when Wagner's pass intended for Victor Cacho was picked off by Tim Hersey late in the third quarter. East had driven from its 43 to the West 31, thanks in large part to Doherty's 9-yard pass to who else? … Wagner … on a fake punt on fourth-and-4 from the Bulldogs' 49.
"I just made a bad decision," Wagner said of his team's lone turnover, shaking his head. "I threw over the middle. There was a guy on the outside I should have thrown to instead. Things just didn't work out."
The Blue Devils ball-controlled the Bulldogs to death the rest of the way.
"We had prepared for him and it's a shame because I'd have liked to play against him," said Hersey, who carried 18 times for 100 yards and a touchdown. "He's one of the best quarterbacks Ken East has ever seen and I wish we could have gone against him. They had to play the game completely different than they wanted to. It was difficult to adjust on defense, too, but we got it done."