WSU verbal Bender rains down before lightning

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Washington State fans, you have permission to get excited about QB recruit Peyton Bender. When your quarterback-in-waiting goes 19-for-29 for 273 yards with four touchdown passes, just one sack and no interceptions, and neither he nor his coaches are fully satisfied, then you know the kid is having a special season.

So far this year, the Cardinal Gibbons senior has thrown for 11 TDs in three games and has just two sacks and one interception.

Even more impressive was the fact that Bender's numbers Thursday night were accomplished in barely more than one half. Bender's team improved to 3-0 with a 31-0 win over Cooper City in a game that was called after a lightning delay in the third quarter.

Bender got just one possession in that third quarter, and he turned that into a touchdown before the bad weather arrived.

"Peyton made some good throws, he was off on a few, and he had a few drops," Gibbons coach Mike Morrill said. "They (Cooper City) brought some pressures that perhaps we were not ready for. Peyton reacted well, but we would have liked to have finished a couple more drives.

"All in all, we got the job done. We'll take it."

Morrill said teams have to be wary about blitzing Bender.

"Pick your poison," Morrill said. "Some teams are going to bring pressure and some are going to drop everyone (into coverage) and force us to make quick throws."

Bender beat both approaches Thursday night, especially in a brilliant first half in which he completed 18 of 26 passes for 248 yards and three TDs.

He also showed his mastery of some of the nuances of the game when his hard count drew three off-sides penalties on the Cooper City defense.

"They were being very aggressive and trying to blitz," Bender said of the Cooper City defense. "We were just trying to slow them down. We called a few (plays) on "2", and it worked. It slowed their pass rush.

"We have a check at the line. We have a code word. I just shouted it out so that everyone gets it."

Bender's first touchdown pass was a 26-yard fade pattern thrown to the right corner of the end zone. The ball wobbled a bit, but Trevon Lee made a nice adjustment to come up with the catch.

The quarterback revealed that he changed that play at the line of scrimmage.

"I checked to Tre on a vertical because I saw he had a one-on-one matchup," Bender said.

Bender's second TD toss was an 11-yarder to running back Deon McIntosh. The quarterback first looked right before finding McIntosh open on the left side.

"We had our running back run a wheel route," Bender said. "It's kind of a longer-developing play. I knew I was probably going to have him open, but I still looked for (Lee) on my first read. But they covered that up, so I came back to the left, and the wheel was wide open."

Hard counts to draw easy penalties, changing plays at the line of scrimmage, looking one way and then finding a second option – these are all traits of an advanced quarterback, and Bender certainly looked the part on Thursday.

He capped his brief night by hitting George Rushing on a six-yard slant pattern, going left to right, and then tossing a short swing pass to McIntosh, who converted it into a 24-yard score.

Even the one sack Bender took Thursday was not an awful play since everyone was covered, and he did not want to force a ball and possibly get intercepted.

"Overall, I thought (Bender) was good," Gibbons offensive coordinator Matt DeBuc said. "He missed a couple, but that's part of the game.

"We want to be perfect. But when you throw it as much as we do, you are going to miss some. And when we miss some, we don't like it – we get aggravated."

DeBuc said that had the game gone four quarters, Gibbons would have scored more in line with the 41 points they had averaged coming into Thursday.

As for looking off a primary receiver, DeBuc said he wants Bender to get all his targets involved.

"We don't really have second and third options," DeBuc said. "We throw to areas, and it's (Bender's) job to find that area. He's getting the grasp of it and will continue to get better. He's rolling right now, but we weren't perfect. We were pretty good, and pretty good is not going to be enough once we get to our district schedule."

Bender agreed and said some passes "got away" from him.

"I don't think I played as good as I could have," he said. "I got pressured at times, but I thought I could have played better.

"I was not getting much on the ball. I under-threw a couple guys on some passes. I don't think I played bad, but there were a few passes I wish I could have back."

Cardinal Gibbons came into the game ranked by the Associated Press as the No. 9 in the state among Class 5A schools.

Bender's stats Thursday: 19 for 29, 273 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs, 1 sack

Bender's stats for the season: 63 of 92 for 946 yards, 11 TDs, 1 INTs, 2 sacks

CARDINAL GIBBONS' SCHEDULE
Fri Aug. 23 - at Belen (exhibition)
Fri Aug. 30 - Western (W, 45-0)
Fri Sep. 6 - at Everglades (W, 37-15)
Thu Sep. 12 Cooper City (W, 31-0)
Fri Sep. 20 - at Boyd Anderson
Fri Sep. 27 - at Northeast
Fri Oct. 4 – Key West (district opener)
Sat Oct. 19 – at Jackson (district)
Fri Oct. 25 – Ely
Fri Nov. 1 – American Heritage (district)
Fri Nov. 8 - Coral Springs

About the author: Based in Miami, Walter Villa is a free-lance writer who has written for The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, ESPN.com, Baseball America, Sports Illustrated.com and many more. He also served as an assistant sports editor at The Miami Herald for 15 years. He will be following Peyton Bender this season for Cougfan.com.

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