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TCNJ impressed with backup QB’s poise in hostile environment

November 1, 2009

Should a quarterback finish a game he didn’t start, there’s a few premises under which the change can take place.

And no–at face value, not all are positive. Two in particular lay on opposite ends of the benefit-detriment spectrum.

Should a backup enter the action, it could indicate that the starter’s been given the rest of the afternoon (or evening) off—a gesture of appreciation for his immediate effort, and bigger-picture respect for his body of work.

The other, a fear-strickening sight for sore eyes, can thrust a reserve player into the mix without his or his coaches’ consent. If its No. 1 quarterback goes down with an injury, the inflicted program can only hope for the best from his understudy—generally younger, less proven and/or battle-tested.

Listed on the bottom half of TCNJ’s two-deep, quarterback Jay Donoghue has experienced both this season.

The sophomore saw his season’s first action as early as Week 3, handed the keys to the Lions’ high-octane offense that already posted 51 points after 45 lopsided minutes. He threw only twice, connecting with wide receiver Erik Hendrickson on an unsuccessful 3rd down attempt in the third quarter.

Though limited, his 2009 resume boasts an eight-play, 79 yard scoring drive orchestrated with the offense’s seasoned program player offering support from the sidelines.

He didn’t make much noise, but he didn’t make crippling mistakes either. His evening was quiet, but at least it didn’t plant seeds of doubt in his coaches’ minds in advent of this off-season’s most pivotal decision—selecting a suitor for a Chris James-less offense.

Contrasting the favorable scenario preceding its comfy move earlier in the year, Saturday’s first-half scare during the team’s 30-7 loss forced its No. 2 into the volatile atmosphere imposed by Division III’s 23rd most-effective pass rush (SUNY-Cortland avg. 8.75 sacks/gm). In spite of the circumstances—including, but not limited to temperamental weather conditions, physical inferiority in the trenches, and, of course, the sight of the team’s four-year starter writhing near the sideline late in the game’s opening period—Donoghue seemed ready, if not excited.

He completed two of his first three throws—both shovel passes to hybrid wide receiver/tight end Bill Picatagi in the waning minutes of the first half—surviving, not yet asked to thrive. But after he’d been entrusted with leading the offense and carrying his team, already buried in a 23-point abyss, Donoghue erupted out of the locker room.

He rushed toward the sideline, his head on a swivel in search a center—or anyone really—with whom he could take warm-up snaps. Only when he felt comfortable with handling those crucial exchanges, he turned his attention to his seething anxious energy, leaping while kicked up his knees into his chest.

Only in his second year with the program, his childlike vigor was understood, maybe even expected. But his veteran resilience and poise under the least forgiving of environments couldn’t have been anticipated, in part an input toward its resounding impression.

“He did well,” TCNJ offensive coordinator Bobby Acosta said after the game. “Under the circumstances coming into today, I think he really stepped up and managed what we had,” or didn’t–considering he operated an offense less its two starting tailbacks and a handful of offensive linemen.

His shoulder pads already unclipped for the game’s final 30 minutes, a half-unsuited Chris James reverberated his coach’s praise.

“I think he played well. I talked to him about a couple things, putting the ball on the carpet,” he said, referring to two fumbles after poorly executed hand-offs—both the youngster’s fault. “That’s not good at any standpoint. But he definitely did a good job.”

Sure to mention its immediate flaws, James insisted that his performance and the experience should pay dividends down the road.

“He also got some experience today. That’s gonna do a lot for him next year and however many more he has.”

Surprisingly upbeat afterward, even following a fourth-quarter shot from SUNY-Cortland defensive end Alex Greenberg that dislodged the lanky 19-year-old from the football, Donoghue spoke of his career’s first realistic simulation like he’d enjoyed himself.

Animated, not jaded by enthusiasm, he assumed blame for the few tarnishes on his afternoon.

“It could have went a lot better,” he said, critically noting the expected rookie errors. “A couple plays out there, I gotta hold onto the ball. But other than that it, I mean, it’s my first real half I got to play so it was [still pretty good].”

Battered, not rattled, he didn’t seem phased by N. F. L. prospect Bryan Wiley—ranked No. 10 on the national sack leader board—nor would he buckle under the weight of the unfamiliar responsibility.

“I felt pretty comfortable in there,” said Donoghue, a claim supported after he’d completed nine of his 13 passes for 59 yards. “Wet, rain, cold—it doesn’t help, but I’ve still gotta make the plays out there.”

The team’s ailing starter didn’t appear to be seriously injured during the game. But if Chris James can’t go next week, Donoghue said he’s fully capable of rising to the challenge.

“Oh yeah—I’m definitely comfortable. Chris is the toughest competitor there is, so I’m sure he’ll be back. But if he’s not, I’ll be ready.”

No official information on James’ return is available, nor is it expected to be released. But next Saturday’s home finale is anticipated to be chock-full of insight—both into James’ health, and Donoghue’s self-proclaimed readiness.

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