Losing a quarterback is tough on any football team.

But when it does happen, running backs are relied on to keep defenses honest and move the chains. This has been especially true for Kelso and Toledo, down starting quarterbacks but with tremendous run games keeping them ahead.

Max McDaniel recently put the Hilanders on his back and ran for 243 yards in Kelso’s 29-23 overtime loss to Mountain View. McDaniel has totaled 833 yards on 86 rushes this season. Toledo lost quarterback Bryce Marcil in Week 3 and is riding Coleby Cherrington, Ethan Buck, and Keyton Wallace. Both are 4-2 overall, and both are fighting for to return to the state tournament this November.

Toledo’s Wing-T offense was already predicated on the run game, but it’s the pass plays that sometimes keeps defenses on their heels.

The Indians have three backs who have dominated: Wallace has 730 yards and nine touchdowns on 85 carries, Buck has 588 yards and three scores over 65 attempts and Cherrington has tallied 466 yards and four touchdowns on 66 carries.

Toledo still misses its starting quarterback.

“(Marcil) is a really important piece,” Buck said. “It was a lot to lose him but we have two really good backups and the rest of the team is here.”

Kelso’s offense is a bit different. They run a pro-style offense, where throwing is common on third down. McDaniel, though, makes it a different situation.

“When you can turn around and hand the ball off to our backs, it’s good,” Kelso coach Steve Amrine said. “We try and keep it pretty much the same for them, it becomes cosmetics and formations (when a quarterback is forced to miss time).”

When Scotties signal-caller A.J. Hoggatt went down, backup Quentin Nelson felt like he needed to step up to Hoggatt’s level. But having McDaniel back there can be huge.

“It’s incredible, just watching Max run. He never gives up,” Nelson said. “He just strives for yards. He tries to do the best he can.”

Feeling the pressure

Toledo losing Marcil was a blow that hit hard through the Indians’ roster.

“It’s not a very good feeling,” Wallace said. “Everyone hoped it wasn’t too bad of an injury.”

Marcil was attempting a deep pass down the right sideline when a bone in his elbow broke, without any contact, on the final play of their 18-14 loss to Adna.

The Indians responded with a 14-12 win over Pe Ell/Willapa Valley, then a 28-0 win over Toutle Lake and a 50-0 blowout of Mossyrock.

“We do try to step up our game to help the team,” Buck said. “I feel like we take it upon ourselves to move the offense.”

Kelso, in a Greater St. Helens League 3A which includes larger schools and an inherently larger potential for breakout talent, needs as many weapons as they can if they’re to win regularly.

“We were a little unsure as to what was going to happen,” McDaniel said. “We’d seen (Nelson) in practice but we hadn’t seen him perform in a game. And A.J., he’s kind of hard to replace. He executes everything very well.”

Minor adjustments

Each back for Toledo tries for 100 yards each game, which is generally enough to win. Only generally, though, as the Indians learned in their 18-12 season-opening loss to Charles Wright Academy.

“Charles Wright was a wake-up call to learn that we weren’t as good as we were last year and it really brought us together,” Buck said. ”To let us know we’re one unit and you really need to have trust in each other.”

Toledo’s run game was always going to be a factor, and Kelso is riding in a similar ship.

The Hilanders’ plan was to get McDaniel the ball plenty, so they haven’t needed to deviate much in their game scripts.

“I think it’s equal, maybe a few more run plays,” Nelson said. “We use the same plays because they work.”

Successful football programs will always rely on the “next man up” mentality, as Amrine notes, but there can still be kinks.

“It’s a little bit of a transition,” Amrine said. “You get the No. 2 guy reps, but let’s face it, the starting guy gets 75 percent of the reps in practice.”

The Southwest 2B League is dominated by run-first offenses, though quarterbacks have played an increasingly important role. The backs of Toledo, though, have been so dominant that there’s not one game that stands out to either Buck or Wallace.

“I feel like there were multiple games where we proved our worth,” Wallace said. “When a team would key in on one of our backs, another would break out for big yards.”

Toledo has three straight wins since Marcil was injured and a potential fourth Friday as they travel to play Wahkiakum.

Kelso faces Prairie at Schroeder Field at 7 p.m. Friday.

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Jason is a journeyman sports reporter who has covered the Golden State Warriors, Oakland A's, along with a heavy emphasis on the Oakland Raiders. He comes to Cowlitz County from Oakland, Calif. and is a loving father.

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