By Jim Riggs
Jamestown quarterback Jake Sisson has had a season to remember and it's not even over.
Above, from the left, are Stephen Carlson, Zack Panebianco, Ben Larson and Brian Park. The Jamestown High School receivers have combined for 73 receptions for nearly 1,400 yards and 16 touchdowns as the unbeaten Red Raiders have averaged nearly 55 points per game. Below, clockwise from top left, are Carlson, Panebianco, Larson and Park during game action earlier this season. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J?photos by Jim Riggs
Through five games, the senior has completed 64 percent of his passes, 78-for-122, for 1,433 yards and 17 touchdowns. The highlight of his season was a win at Kenmore West when he passed for a Western New York-record 508 yards, which ranks fourth in state history.
Those are impressive numbers, particularly for a program that in the past was known for run first and pass only when necessary.
But if no one catches his passes, Sisson doesn't have any impressive statistics or records. Fortunately, that hasn't been a problem because Sisson doesn't have one or two talented receivers, but four who have been important in leading the Red Raiders to a 5-0 record and an average of 54.8 points per game.
Junior Stephen Carlson has caught 26 passes for 437 yards and five touchdowns while right behind is junior Zack Panebianco with 22 receptions for 460 yards and two touchdowns. Junior Ben Larson has 14 catches for 197 yards and four touchdowns while senior Brian Park has pulled in 11 passes for 286 yards and five touchdowns.
''We had very high expectations, we knew we'd have a good year,'' coach Tom Langworthy said about the 2013 season. ''But when you get into it and think about some of the plays we've made and some of the situations we've been able to create for ourselves offensively, it's been pretty cool. To play five games and have 50 points in each game, it's not something as a coach that you experience every year. Some coaches might never experience that and I'm just thankful for these guys.''
What has helped fuel the lofty point production is a new offense. After back-to-back 8-2 seasons that ended in the Section 6 Class AA championship game, a fast-paced, no-huddle offense was adopted this season.
''We talked about it last November or early December after the season,'' Langworthy said. ''I thought we could play better overall. I thought we were a little too methodical, slow in the huddle and breaking the huddle and letting the defense get caught up. I just felt like it was the year to try it, we have all these receivers back, they already know the plays that we run and we have Jake coming back.''
See GRADE A, Page B2
From Page B1
And having four talented receivers is a plus.
''I've never been around a group of receivers as good as this,'' Langworthy said. ''We've had great receivers in the past, but to have four at the same time? No.''
He added, ''They're all good friends, too, so they don't care who gets the credit.''
Having four talented receivers on his team is nothing new for Sisson. He experienced that when he played at Bentonville (Ark.) High School before joining the Red Raiders last season.
''They had two really good slot guys and two really good outside guys,'' he said. ''It's really funny because basically we've got the same thing here.''
And each Jamestown receiver is unique.
''I think everybody has a different skill set,'' Langworthy said. ''Carlson is a big, rangy, long receiver who can catch a lot of things; Zack is really shifty, probably our go-to guy; Brian's kind of a tight-end type, another rangy guy who can break tackles; and then Larson is more of a speed guy and a really good route runner,'' Langworthy said. ''Everybody has their strengths and I think that's why teams have a hard time defending everybody.''
This is Panebianco's third season on the varsity. When he was a freshmen on the 2011 team that finished 8-2, the Red Raiders completed 86 passes for the entire season. When asked the difference from three years ago, he said, ''Obviously we didn't have Sisson here and even last year he wasn't nearly as good as he is now, so I wouldn't be expecting him to be throwing up to 40 passes a game throughout the season.''
And what is the difference between the Sisson of 2012 and 2013?
''He just worked over the summer,'' Panebianco said. ''He got faster, better running the ball. He got more accurate and powerful (passing).''
And Sisson's passes make Panebianco's job a lot easier.
''He doesn't put you in too many positions where you have to make really good catches, it's just make the catch right in your arms,'' Panebianco said.
His receiving teammates agree.
''He just has very good technique,'' Carlson said.''He always gets the ball on a line right to where it has to be at the right time.''
Larson said, ''It's perfect, he puts it right where you need it and it's not often that he makes a bad throw. When he does, it's still right around the area where you want it.''
And Park added, ''Basically it's always in the perfect spot. He rarely ever throws a bad pass.''
But did Park think he would be catching so many passes this season?
''I knew after Mike (Watson; last season's leader with 22 catches) leaving I would be put back into the offense, but I didn't think I would get passed to as much as I was,'' he said.
But along with graduates Watson and Conner Anderson, returnees Carlson and Panebianco were the top receivers last season, so defenses pay a lot of attention to the two returnees this season.
''A lot of my touchdowns I've been wide open because they double covered Steve and Zack,'' Park said.
Larson said, ''I'm sure they're always keying on Zack and Steve. I know that they're going to be getting a lot of catches and I'm grateful that I'm getting catches this year and I'm getting thrown to, so I'm just making the most of my opportunities.''
All four receivers knew they would have plenty of opportunities with the no-huddle offense.
''It sounded great because we'd get a lot more plays going and a lot more movement of the ball,'' Carlson said was his reaction when told the team was making the change. ''At first I wasn't sure it was a definite factor that we were going to do it. We started working on it in passing league in the summer and right through the season.''
And it was in the summer when he was convinced the hurry-up could lead to a special season.
''In the passing league over the summer we were looking pretty good beating up on some teams up in Buffalo,'' Carlson said. ''So we were kind of expecting it (a special season).''
Larson said, ''I was excited when I heard we were doing the hurry-up because it brings a different element to our game and makes the defense rush. We practiced it all summer and we were ready for it.''
Sisson said that's what he points out to his classmates.
''They ask me, 'Jake, how have you (the team) gotten so good?' and I tell them we put in all of our work in the offseason and it pays off during the season with execution,'' he said.
And that execution has been from everyone.
''Jake does such a good job distributing the ball and our line has done a very good job, for the most part, so it's a real team effort,'' Langworthy said.
And that effort continues this week at home against Clarence and the following week at Orchard Park to close out the regular season. Then it's on to the playoffs and the Red Raiders plan to go further than three games in the postseason.
Whenever the season ends, Langworthy will lament losing key seniors in the passing game such as Sisson and Park. But on the bright side, he will have juniors Panebianco, Carlson and Larson coming back.