Making reads makes difference
It wasn't what Tyler Thompson had envisioned for himself as the quarterback of the Johnstown-Monroe High School football team.
In the third quarter of the Johnnies' game against Heath on Aug. 31, Thompson found himself standing on the sidelines watching -- and wondering if he would ever get another chance to prove himself.
But Thompson was given that opportunity and led Johnstown to the winning touchdown in the final minutes of an 18-14 victory over the Bulldogs in week two, gaining the confidence he needed to jump-start his season.
"I was definitely scared," said Thompson, whose team was 8-2 overall before playing Gnadenhutten Indian Valley on Nov. 2 in the opening round of the Division IV, Region 15 playoffs. "I didn't know what would happen, or if I would even play again at quarterback.
"Ball security was the big thing. I was pitching the ball when I was in trouble instead of just going down (for a sack). I knew when I got back in the game that I had to do something and be the leader of the team. I got back in and we drove downfield. The line did an awesome job and we worked together to get the win."
Thompson has led the Johnnies with his legs more than his right arm. Through 10 games, the 6-foot, 160-pound senior had rushed for 986 yards and 13 touchdowns on 124 carries, an average of 8.0 yards per attempt. He had completed 20 of 57 passes for 286 yards with two touchdowns and six interceptions.
"It all came down to making my reads and knowing when to pitch the ball and when to run the ball," said Thompson, who was second on the team in rushing behind the 1,374 yards of sophomore running back Cody Farley. "We work on it all the time in practice and it's a matter of working well with the line as well as Cody and (fullback) Adam (Carter)."
Thompson started several games in the defensive backfield as a sophomore before making that a full-time role last season when the Johnnies advanced to a Division IV state semifinal, losing to eventual state champion Creston Norwayne 59-28.
Coach Mike Carter said Thompson has made the adjustments necessary to orchestrate an attack that averaged 342.2 yards rushing and 34.9 points during the regular season.
"Tyler started for two years as a defensive back, but he didn't have a lot of varsity experience at quarterback," coach Carter said. "It took him a while to get used to the speed of the game and gain confidence in his natural abilities.
"Tyler is driven and he does whatever it takes to win. He has good vision, he's a good leader and he's a tough kid. He has what it takes to be a good quarterback."
Last season's team included a first-team all-state running back in 2012 graduate Ross Franklin, who gained 3,416 yards with 51 touchdowns. Franklin's classmate, quarterback Matt Smith, rushed for 1,370 yards and 19 touchdowns to earn second-team all-state.
"I knew I had some big shoes to fill because (Smith) did a lot of great things," Thompson said. "(Matt and I) would talk about things in practice and what I needed to do when I got in there (at quarterback). He definitely got me ready for this year."
The Johnnies finished second in the MBC at 6-1, behind Danville (7-0). They closed the regular season Oct. 26 with a 55-6 victory at Northridge.
Farley rushed for 205 yards and four touchdowns on 14 carries and Thompson added 99 yards on seven attempts. Nick Sadinsky and Adam Carter had touchdown runs, Zach Fleming returned a fumble 34 yards for a score and Alex Workman returned the second-half kickoff 73 yards for a touchdown.
"We knew we had a lot of talent (from last season) coming back on defense," said Thompson, whose team surrendered 17.3 points per game during the regular season. "We knew we could build on that (playoff run from last season) to do well this season."
The Indian Valley-Johnstown winner plays Ironton or Bloom-Carroll in a regional semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9. Ironton finished the regular season 6-3 and lost to the Johnnies 34-7 last season in a regional semifinal. Bloom-Carroll won its final three games and was 5-5 before Nov. 2.
"Everyone has been doing their job and has been getting better every day," Thompson said. "We're all close and we have come a long way from the beginning of the season until now (before the first-round playoff game). We're brothers, and we all have each other's backs."