Hilliard Darby: Blake Horvath gives Panthers poise, production at quarterback
The Hilliard Darby football team was down 28-24 to OCC-Cardinal Division rival Marysville on Sept. 4 when Panthers cornerback Samuel Buoni recovered a fumble at the Monarchs’ 29-yard-line with 1:03 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers needed a touchdown to win and had barely a minute to do it.
Forty-four seconds later, however, quarterback Blake Horvath led his team into the end zone, a drive capped by Connor Jones, who ran in from 11 yards out with 19 seconds left to give Darby a 31-28 victory
“Blake took the reins and drove us down,” said coach John Santagata, whose team was 2-3 overall and 2-2 in the OCC-Cardinal before facing Dublin Jerome on Oct. 2. “He didn’t score on that drive to win it with very little time on the clock, but he managed it so well. That’s definitely something that stands out.”
“I had nothing going through my head but to make the right reads and get the ball where it was supposed to go, and try to make plays and get some yards for us,” added Horvath, a junior in his first year as a starter in Darby’s potent triple-option attack.
Through five games, the Panthers had 1,624 yards of total offense while averaging 324.8 yards per game.
“He has to put the offense into the right play. He has to check the play at the line of scrimmage. There’s a lot of cerebral things going on every snap in this offense,” Santagata said. “He’s directing the entire offense all the time and he’s doing a really nice job with it. And he’s also able to throw the ball. We’re throwing the ball more than we have in recent years.”
Horvath had completed 27 of 48 passes for 297 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions and has 760 yards rushing and nine touchdowns through five games.
In a 35-14 win over Thomas Worthington on Oct. 25, Horvath ran 16 times for 191 yards and four touchdowns and completed six of eight passes for 35 yards and another score.
“I do a lot of footwork drills with my coaches. I have to make sure that I always have my feet in the right places. Just athletic stances so I can run it, throw it, do anything possible to move the ball,” Horvath said. “We always work on a lot of (run-pass options), so it’s my decision whether to throw it or run it. It just helps us as a dual threat to keep teams on their toes.”
Horvath said his play has been elevated by the skill players around him including Jones, who had 239 yards rushing on 48 carries with one touchdown through five games.
“Connor is a beast. He’s one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. He just never stops moving,” Horvath said. “You think you have him down, but he’ll never stop moving and he’ll break free. He’ll run you over and he’ll run right past you. He’s stronger than you and faster than you. You can’t stop him.”
Horvath also credited his offensive line, which features Jacob Neri, Hayden Gladden, Brady Smith, Andrew Williams and Logan Braddock.
“There’s never been any time I’ve ever been worried about getting tackled behind the line or getting sacked,” Horvath said. “I know they’re always there. They’re always solid. They rarely ever mess up in games in a critical way that would put us behind the line.”
The ninth-seeded Panthers will travel to face eighth-seeded Gahanna in the first round of the Division I Region 3 playoffs on Friday, Oct. 9. The winner will face 16th-seeded Grove City or top-seeded Pickerington Central on Oct. 16.