On a talented team with several top-end players, ATM’s quarterback sometimes gets overshadowed, but he’s been a key piece for the top-ranked Wildcats.
EVERETT – Jerry Jensen made a promise to Connor Johnson after last season.
It’s a promise the Archbishop Murphy football coach hasn’t always been able to keep. But neither Jensen, nor his quarterback, really mind as the Wildcats prepare for this weekend’s Class 2A state-title game.
“I promised him this offseason that we would throw the ball about 15 times per game, and I’m not sure how many times we’ve hit that. Maybe once this year,” Jensen said. “I hear about it all the time. The score dictates that quite a bit. But we work towards that.”
2B: Napavine (12-0) vs. Liberty (Spangle) (12-1), 4 p.m.
3A: Kamiakin (11-2) vs. O’Dea (13-0), 7:30 p.m.
1A: Royal (12-0) vs. Connell (12-1), 10 a.m.
2A: Archbishop Murphy (13-0) vs. Liberty (Issaquah) (12-0), 1 p.m.
1B: Odessa-Harrington (13-0) vs. Neah Bay (10-1), 4 p.m.
4A: Camas (13-0) vs. Richland (13-0), 7:30 p.m.
All games at Tacoma Dome
It has happened once. Two weeks ago in a state-quarterfinal game against Tumwater, Johnson attempted a season-high 19 passes in a 48-10 victory. He has had double-digit attempts six times this year.
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That’s life as quarterback of a potent Archbishop Murphy attack that has historically been a run-first offense. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior has thrown for 1,392 yards and 19 touchdowns with a completion percentage of 71 percent (61 of 86) for the Wildcats, who — aside from five forfeits that go in the record books as 2-0 victories — have won all eight games they have played this season by 34 points or more.
“I think the thing about Connor that strikes me most is a lot of quarterbacks are kind of uptight and really worried about their numbers and all that stuff, and he really doesn’t care,” Jensen said. “He just goes with the flow, and I think that’s a characteristic that, nowadays, is extremely rare.”
Johnson knows exactly what is expected of him when the Wildcats’ offense takes the field.
“My job is to keep everyone calm, relaxed and ready to go,” Johnson said. “I just want to make sure everyone is focused on the same task: driving down the field and getting a touchdown.”
Sometimes that means having a little fun with teammates.
“He’s a goofball off the field,” senior wide receiver Paul Schireman said. “On the field, he’s focused, dialed in, a heck of a player. He’s a great athlete.”
Jensen said Johnson often lobbies for more pass attempts. He points out opportunities to go deep and exposes weaknesses in opponents’ defenses.
Senior running back/receiver/returner Anfernee Gurley believes that because of all of Archbishop Murphy’s weapons, Johnson doesn’t get enough credit for what he brings to the offense. Gurley pointed to last weekend’s 52-14 victory over Lynden in the semifinals, where Johnson was 11 of 12 for 241 yards and five touchdowns — and one score on the ground.
“He really is overlooked,” Gurley said. “The last game, he had a great game. He made some great reads — not only hitting his main targets, but other guys that were open. I feel like he deserves more attention than he’s getting.”
Johnson, Schireman and Gurley were all freshmen in Jensen’s first year at Archbishop Murphy, when the Wildcats went 3-6.
Archbishop Murphy (13-0) is now the top-ranked Class 2A team in the state as it goes for its first state championship since 2003 when it faces Liberty (12-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Tacoma Dome.
“Really, I just focus on what I can do to get better every day and to get a ‘W’ and a state championship this Saturday,” Johnson said. “I’m so excited. I just want to play. I’m ready to go.”
Will that include 15 pass attempts for Johnson in his final high-school game at Archbishop Murphy?
“That is always the question,” Jensen said with a smile.