COLUMBIA, SC — The passing game might not be the calling card of A.C. Flora’s offense, but it is a substantial part of the Falcons’ success this season.
With first-year quarterback Jake Lewis spreading passes among a corps of receivers led by Schroder Carlton and Shelton Whitaker, the Falcons have captured the Region 4-3A title and compiled a 9-1 regular-season record.
“We want to run first and then, as teams move up and it starts to open up things, then we look to our passing game to take advantage,” coach Dean Howell said.
Heading into the postseason, the passing game has accounted for 1,460 of the Falcons’ 4,476 yards of offense.
“As much as we run, we’re always looking to pass. We work on it all the time in practice,” said Lewis, a senior who has thrown for 1,409 yards and 11 touchdowns. “At the beginning of the year, the receivers might have been a little upset, but now they see how it works out.”
The addition of Shelton Whitaker, a transfer who began his varsity career as a leading receiver for Heathwood Hall, has been a key to the Falcons’ ability to batter opponents through the air.
“It was perfect that we got him,” senior receiver Schroder Carlton said. “It’s like he’s been with us the whole time. It helps put some attention on him and opens up some other things.”
Carlton was the team’s leading receiver in 2011, but an ankle injury suffered in the season opener has hampered him a bit.
“Coming into the season, we were expecting Schroder to have an excellent season … he’s been slowed down, but he helped our team a lot by taking the brunt of the defense,” Howell said.
“Having Schroder back is a big deal, and he’s had some trouble with his ankles, but he plays through it because he knows we need him,” Lewis said.
Having Whitaker to play off of has been a help for the Falcons, Lewis said.
“We have Schroder and you know if you get the ball to him he’s not going to give it up. He’s going to make something of it, and teams know that and they try to double-cover him,” Lewis said. “But now we’ve got Shelton, who’s just able to run, snag balls down the field and is always scoring touchdowns, so teams can’t just double Schroder now. It’s tremendous how different teams play us now.”
Whitaker said he started the preseason unsure of what to expect of himself and his new team.
“I just made sure everytime he threw the ball to me, that I caught it, because I knew every catch I made would make him more comfortable with me,” he said.
“Now, whether it’s a short pass or a long pass, I’m trying to get into the end zone or put us in position to score,” said Whitaker, who has 23 catches for 701 yards and seven touchdowns.
“We just have great running backs, so we know our key is to block, but that opens up the pass for us,” Carlton said. “To be successful in the playoffs, we have to be balanced and do both extremely well.”
Fortunately, the Falcons already do.