Drake's Effort Not Enough

Curtis Drake

Penn State-bound athlete makes a case for a career as a college quarterback but his team comes up short in Big 33 loss to Ohio.

HERSHEY, Pa. -- The question presented to Curtis Drake after Saturday night's Big 33 Game was the same one Ohio defenders must have been asking themselves during the proceedings: Where's he going to be?

The Penn State recruit is an elusive sort, no question. Playing quarterback (as he did at Philadelphia West Catholic), he earned Pennsylvania MVP honors by running 17 times for 88 yards and two touchdowns, completing eight of 18 passes for 166 yards and rallying his team from 14 points down in the fourth quarter.

Only a clutch TD drive by the Ohioans -- one that was capped when lineman Adam Replogle, inserted at running back in the goal-line offense, plowed the final yard with 20 seconds left -- allowed them to escape with a 38-31 victory and end a three-game losing streak in this most storied of high school all-star games.

It came at the expense of a squad that included not only Drake, but two other PSU recruits, offensive tackle Mark Arcidiacono (St. Joe's Prep) and tight end Garry Gilliam (Milton Hershey). A fourth Lion-to-be, defensive lineman Jordan Hill (Steel-High), missed the game with a sprained left ankle.

And afterward, everybody again wondered where Drake was going to be come this fall. It is a pertinent issue, since the Nittany Lions have but two scholarship QBs in incumbent Daryll Clark and freshman Kevin Newsome.

Certainly Drake, originally recruited to be a slot receiver, wonders.

“I honestly don't believe this will be my last game as quarterback,” he told the Harrisburg Patriot-News in the days leading up to the Big 33 affair.

But when asked after the game what position he thought he might play, he said, “Hopefully slot. But I think a little bit of (QB in the) Wildcat offense and things like that (is a possibility) -- slot, and a little bit of quarterback.

“They talked to me about having two quarterbacks,” he added, referring to the PSU coaches, “and possibly if anything happened, needing me to come in. ... That definitely came up in our conversation.”

And he is, without question, willing to do anything.

“You can put me at Wildcat, put me at slot, do whatever,” he said. “I'm just looking to play.”

And make plays. He is not a natural passer, in part because he was seldom asked to do much throwing in West Catholic's potent run-oriented offense. But he is a breathtaking athlete, and one who savors a challenge.

“I'm looking to put the team on my back whenever, any time,” he said. “That's one thing I think that separates me. I'm never scared, never going to back down from any competition. Any time a team needs to make a big play, I'm looking to be the one to make that play. I definitely feel as though I've got the heart. That's what separates me from everybody else.”

Drake ran for 84 yards in the first half, which ended in a 17-17 tie. But on Pennsylvania's first drive of the second half, he fumbled while trying to sneak in from the 1 -- the result of a “miscommunication,” he said -- which conjured up memories of six months ago, when he was twice stuffed on the doorstep of the very same end zone during West Catholic's 35-34 double-overtime loss to Wilmington Area in the PIAA Class AA championship.

“That was like a replay, all over again,” he said. “I'm like, 'Oh my gosh.' ”

Making matters worse was the fact that Ohio struck immediately when its MVP, Miami, Ohio-bound QB Austin Boucher, hit Iowa recruit Micah Hyde over the middle, at the 25. He wriggled free from a tackle attempt and then set sail down the middle of the field before veering left and outrunning defensive backs Jermel Lee and Chris Houston to the pylon to complete the 99-yard play.

Ohio added another touchdown in the final seconds of the third quarter, that coming on a six-yard run by Fitzgerald Toussaint. But an interception by linebacker Carson Sharbaugh -- part of that Wilmington team that denied Drake and Co. a title -- resulted in a TD by Lyle Marsh with 7:33 left in the game, cutting the gap to 31-24.

Then Drake fashioned an eight-play, 89-yard drive in the closing minutes to tie it. First he feathered a pass down the left sideline to Rob Hollomon, his high school teammate, for a gain of 43 on third-and-10. Four plays later, Drake connected with Gilliam, wide open over the middle on a tight end delay, for a pickup of 33, to the 1.

Drake then fielded a low snap out of shotgun formation and skittered in for the score with 2:21 remaining.

Ohio had a response. And much later, all of the PSU-bound recruits had a favorable response to what they had just experienced.

“This is definitely a great experience for me,” said Arcidiacono, who played left tackle. “That whole D-Line, basically, is going to Ohio State, and they're great players. I've never gotten to play against talent like that, and I got to test myself out. I'm really happy with how the game turned out. ... I think I did pretty well.”

Gilliam agreed that he game is “a good segue into college,” given the level of competition.

“It was,” he said, “a fun game to play in.”

Hill certainly wishes he could have taken part. But during practice the week before the game he aggravated an ankle injury he had first suffered in basketball season, and was unable to suit up.

“It was killing me (to sit out),” he said. “That was like my first game I really, actually watched because of an injury. I don't like that at all.”

He will rehab this coming week, then rehab some more after he reports to Penn State on June 28 with the rest of the freshman, for preseason conditioning and the like. And in time, things will be sorted out. Gilliam will find out whether he is better suited for tight end or defensive end. Arcidiacono will discover the position along the offensive front he might best be able to play.

And everyone will find out, once and for all, where Drake will be.

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