First Posted: 8/19/2010
PEMBROKE Three incomplete passes.
The first sailed over the head of the intended receiver and the next landed violently near the bench. On third down, the errant pass shouldve been picked off after it glanced off the fingertips of a spying linebacker.
Chase Armstrongs initial taste of game action at the varsity level had him second guessing his football career as a quarterback.
I didnt know how it would pan out, he said. I couldnt hit nothing on my first couple throws.
While most backup quarterbacks chart plays and manage a clipboard, Armstrong found himself ankle-deep in the muddy turf at Big ‘Mo’ Stadium trying to process what happened on his first three snaps.
Practice seemed easy. The game wasnt supposed to be this tough.
After an impromptu meeting with his coach following the three-and-out, something clicked in the second quarter that wet, August night. Purnell Swetts lanky, 6-foot-1 then-sophomore led his team on a pair of touchdown drives, filling in for a suspended starter without missing a beat.
Armstrong shook off the early jitters and led his team to victory a 28-6 drubbing of the St. Pauls Bulldogs.
The following week as the dual-starting quarterback with Ethan Clark, Armstrong completed 6-of-7 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown in a 47-14 win at South Robeson.
He had arrived at the highest level and Mark Heil was taking notice.
Over the next few games, Armstrong was on the field more often than not and became the Rams go-to arm on third-and-long. His ability to locate receivers down the field stretched defenses and altered Swetts usual, one-dimensional schemes.
Heil is calling the plays this fall and says its no secret that the offense is centered on Armstrong. For a kid who began taking snaps under center in the third grade, inexperience will not be a factor.
Chase is comfortable back there, Heil said. He knows the offense well.
Last seasons luxurious backfield of Ethan and Jock Clark gave the Rams a chance to put Armstrong in the shotgun in different formations at various points of the game. Now that both Clarks are gone and Travon Clark is the main rushing option, Armstrong says Swetts 2010 offense includes a balanced mix of throws and handoffs.
Im still learning some of the playbook, Armstrong said. Coach Heil wants to use our speed at receiver more and not run as much this season.
With a year under his belt, Armstrong has already built relationships with most of his teammates. Heil believes the camaraderie between his players will have to grow stronger to be successful. His quarterback cant do it all by himself.
I dont think Chase has had a fair shot since our team is still coming together, Heil said. Our receiving corps has to get better. Our offensive line has to get better. Chase is going to need some help back there.
Despite his success during the first half of last season, Armstrong says a throw he made at Pinecrest defined his emergence as Swetts quarterback.
With his team trailing 22-20 with no timeouts, Armstrong heaved a deep spiral 48 yards downfield that Ethan Clark hauled in at the 3-yard line. The pass seemed to loft in the evening air for an eternity before falling into the hands of Swetts wide receiver.
The Rams were stopped at the goal line amid controversy two plays later and eventually fell in the first round of the playoffs at Durham Hillside.
The postseason loss left Armstrong gasping for more. He didnt want the season to end. He was just settling into a groove in the shotgun.
The tears came and it was too late.
Sometimes, you dont get the break when you need them, Armstrong said. It was disappointing for us, but we have definitely learned from it.
Armstrong views this fall as unfinished business and says he has two more seasons to win a state championship.
We are just trying our best to get as far as we can, he said. We have nine returning starters on defense and theyre going to be good. Im trying to do my part on offense. I think we are capable of winning them all.