Catching a Break
by Staff Writer
by Cliff Mehrtens
Josh Stilley didn’t need anyone to tell him something was very wrong.
The sharp pain was shooting from his left wrist, which wasn’t in its normal position.
“I looked up at it, and it was all jagged,” said Stilley, Hough High’s starting quarterback.
Stilley had taken a hit from Providence High defenders on a pass play, which was the first offensive snap of the game on Sept. 6.
Ironically, Stilley said he was throwing the ball away.
The bad news: His left (non-throwing) wrist was broken.
The silver lining: Stilley’s season wasn’t ruined.
He missed the rest of that game and the next three, then returned Sept. 30 against North Mecklenburg. The Huskies won that game, 28-16. They also beat West Charlotte, 24-21, on Oct. 6 with Stilley, a sophomore, at quarterback.
He’s thrown a touchdown pass in each of the games since his return, with no interceptions. The cast he continues to wear hasn’t been a major distraction.
“When (Providence) hit me and I landed on the ground, all my weight was on my wrist,” Stilley said. “Once I got over the fact that my wrist was broken, I was more happy that it was my left wrist. If it was my right, I’d probably have been done for the season.”
Instead, he and his teammates are battling for a possible playoff spot.
Hough, 4-4 overall and 3-1 in I-MECK 4A conference play, will host Mooresville (6-2, 3-1 conference) at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 14, in a key league game.
It’s not as if the Huskies were hopeless in Stilley’s absence.
Evan O’Connor was effective as Stilley’s replacement, completing 34 of 63 passes for 300 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. Hough was 2-2 while Stilley was out. The running game began to emerge behind halfback Jackson Campbell, and the defense developed consistency.
Still, it’s almost always good to welcome back your starting quarterback.
“He’s been back for two games now, and we’ve won both of them, which has been impressive,” Hough coach Bobby Collins said. “He hasn’t thrown any interceptions and has been doing a good job of managing the game for us. He plays hard, gives us great effort and he’s a smart kid, a 4.0 (GPA) student.
“What you like about him the most is that he has total control over the offense when he’s out there. (His teammates) respect his leadership a whole lot.”
Stilley’s cast covers most of his hand and palm, making it somewhat tricky to catch snaps while in shotgun formation. He said he concentrates on catching the ball predominantly with his right hand, while using the casted hand to guide the ball.
Stilley and Hough benefited while he was sidelined because he could still run, so he did conditioning drills. He could move around the practice field, attend film sessions and every other team event.
He could do everything except play.
“It’s upsetting not being able to play,” Stilley said. “Sitting there watching everyone else play really made me want to come back.”
But there was the natural trepidation of returning.
“I was a little concerned because my wrist was wrapped up, but my fingers were showing,” Stilley said. “I was worried about maybe falling on them and my fingers maybe breaking, so I had to make sure I tucked my arm when I fell.”
Stilley said he heard from folks who thought he shouldn’t return this season. Others said he should. Only one opinion mattered.
“As long as the doctor said it was OK to come back, I was fine with it,” he said.
Hough, in its second season, is erasing memories of last year’s 2-9 record. The Huskies didn’t win any of their seven conference games last year. If they win Friday, they’ll be alone in second place in the eight-team conference.
Campbell’s development as a running back, and some serious blocking up front, has resulted in four consecutive games of 100 or more rushing yards. Campbell also has a touchdown in each of those games. He ran for a school-record 182 yards on 20 carries in the victory against West Charlotte last week.
The Huskies in the past three games have rushed for 215 yards against West Charlotte, 162 against North Mecklenburg and 273 against Hopewell.
That takes some of the pressure off Stilley and can keep defenses guessing.
“The combination of us being able to run and pass really helps out,” Stilley said. “That way, the (opposing) defense can’t just focus on one. The whole team is gelling better right now.”
Collins was able to laugh before a recent practice as Stilley prepared to lead the first-team offense. The injury, while certainly not fun, could have been a lot worse.
“The arm is still there,” Collins said. “He broke the left wrist, but the right arm is OK, so we’ve been able to throw it around a little bit.”