Before the season, Eastern View head football coach Greg Hatfield believed that his team’s passing game could be potent.
Hatfield knew that, despite the graduation of all-Region 4B pick Matt Lowry at quarterback, he had a capable replacement in Till Butler and a potentially dynamic receiving corps led by Blake Leake, Alex Spangler and Chance Graves.
However, even Hatfield couldn’t have predicted how deadly the Cyclones’ passing attack would be.
With half of the regular season in the books, Butler has completed a very efficient 70.8% of his pass attempts, throwing for 699 yards and 14 touchdowns with no interceptions thus far. His completion percentage and touchdown passes each rank first among Fredericksburg-area quarterbacks, while his yardage is in the top five.
Spangler, who didn’t see meaningful playing time at the receiver spot until late last year, has emerged as a deadly weapon for Eastern View (5-0 overall, 1-0 Battlefield District) this season. He’s caught nine passes for 328 yards and six scores, averaging a whopping 36.4 yards per reception. His touchdown total and yards per catch both lead the area, while his yardage is second.
Not to be outdone, Graves has hauled in a team-high 11 balls for 223 yards and four scores. He’s tied for third in the area in both receptions and touchdowns, while his yardage and yards per reception numbers both rank in the top 10.
The performances of the three seniors have led to the Cyclones scoring 249 points through their first five games—an average of 49.8 per contest. By comparison, last year’s 13-1 team that advanced to the Class 4 state semifinals averaged 47.1 per game.
“The biggest reason we’ve been successful offensively so far is we’ve taken care of the football,” Hatfield said. “You hear coaches preach all the time about limiting turnovers, but it really is the main key to being efficient on offense.”
Indeed, Eastern View has taken care of the ball. The Cyclones have turned it over just two times—both on fumbles—and only one of those came with Butler and Co. on the field.
Butler said his job really is simple: Take care of the ball and distribute it to the likes of Spangler and Graves so they can make plays.
“All I have to do is get them the ball,” Butler remarked. “The coaching staff does a great job of calling the right plays to put us in a position to succeed.”
Hatfield said Butler’s talents go deeper than just getting the ball to his teammates.
“There’s a lot that goes into a good passing game,” he said. “In order to get the ball to his teammates, Till has to make good reads. He does a great job with that, which gives us a better chance to win because he isn’t trying to force the ball into spots where the defense can make plays.”
At the other end of the equation are Spangler and Graves, who have done more than just catch passes from Butler.
Spangler had a 54-yard punt return for a touchdown against Charlottesville. In that same game, Graves took a jet sweep 62 yards for a score.
Graves also blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown in a September 13 matchup at Orange County and took a kickoff return 70 yards to the end zone against Caroline last week.
“They’re both so versatile,” Hatfield said of Spangler and Graves. “They’re a threat to take it the distance whenever they’ve got the ball in their hands.”
Spangler and Graves’ contributions have also helped to nullify the efforts that opposing defenses have made to stop Leake, a Class 4 all-state selection at receiver a season ago.
Leake, who committed to Bucknell University recently, had his biggest performance of the year in last week’s 59-14 thrashing of Caroline, catching five passes for 65 yards and a pair of scores.
Eastern View will look to continue its efficient start when it visits Maury Stadium for a Battlefield District showdown with James Monroe (2-2) at 7 p.m. tonight.
The Yellow Jackets, who began the season with back-to-back victories over Stafford and Charlottesville, have hit a wall in their last two games. They were ambushed 22-6 by a previously winless Riverbend team on September 13 and couldn’t keep up with unbeaten Mountain View in a 55-15 setback two weeks ago.
However, Hatfield said the Cyclones aren’t taking the Jackets lightly in the wake of those two lopsided defeats.
“They’re dangerous,” Hatfield said of James Monroe’s offense. “They’ve got speed and playmakers all over the field, and it’s always tough to go [to Maury] and beat them.”
The Jackets are led by junior Aidan Ryan, who played much of their first two games at quarterback before sliding back to receiver, where he was an all-district pick a year ago. He’s completed 16 of 33 passes for 301 yards with three touchdowns and an interception and hauled in five receptions for 86 yards.
Ryan’s replacement at quarterback, freshman Tahj Smith, has gone 19-for-35 for 224 yards and two interceptions over the past two games.
Eastern View Statistical Leaders
Passing: Till Butler 34-48 (70.8%), 699 yds, 14 TDs
Rushing: Raq Lawson 59-404 (6.8 avg), 4 TDs; Ronta Robinson 18-157 (8.7), 3 TDs
Receiving: Alex Spangler 9-328 (36.4), 6 TDs; Chance Graves 11-223 (20.3), 4 TDs; Blake Leake 8-98 (12.3), 4 TDs
Interceptions: Josh Logan 2
Kicking: Garrett Hutchinson 33-35 XP, 2-3 FG (long 38)
Punting: Garrett Hutchinson 5-36.0