Peyton Bender 6-0 with 23 TD passes to 3 INTs

FORT LAUDERDALE – Future Cougar quarterback Peyton Bender is one win from playing in his first playoff game. The 2014 Washington State verbal commit has led Cardinal Gibbons of Fort Lauderdale to a 6-0 start, the latest victory coming Friday in a 63-20 thrashing of visiting Key West.

Gibbons has a bye next week and then takes on Miami Jackson on Oct. 18. A win there would clinch Gibbons' first playoff berth since 2011, when Bender was a sophomore reserve.

"I can't wait to play (Jackson)," Bender said. "It should be a good game."

It should indeed be a good game. Jackson made it to the state semifinals last year and has a quarterback, Winky Flowers, who some Florida football analysts have rated No. 1 in the state.

That should, of course, present a challenge to Bender, who has put up monster numbers this season and was sharp again on Friday, completing 18 of 23 passes for 228 yards and 4 touchdowns.

He did not get intercepted, sacked or fumble. He threw two touchdown passes to George Rushing -- including perhaps his prettiest toss of the night down the left sideline, hitting the receiver perfectly in stride – and one each to Christian Blake and Leroy Henley.

Bender, who was rested with six minutes left in the third quarter since the game was such a runaway, could have padded his states – but there was no need.

The win over Key West gave Gibbons a 1-0 record in District 16-5A play and continued a streak in which the Chiefs have won every game by at least 22 points this season.

That was certainly the case Friday, when Gibbons and Key West were tied, 7-7, after the first quarter before Bender got hot and the Chiefs scored 56 unanswered points.

"I think we knew the whole time we had the game in control," Bender said. "We just had to get our offense back on the field and let our defense settle down."

Bender was so precise that media analysts were left with little to nit-pick.

He did nearly throw an interception in the end zone by a safety who was lurking in the middle of the field.

"I saw him," Bender said. "That safety had been creeping up throughout the game. We were trying to run slants behind him. I told George (Rushing) to try to get behind him. I tried to lob it behind him. But the safety ended up dropping right into the pass."

On another play, Bender hit Blake for a gain of 34 yards down the right sideline. But, to be honest, Bender badly under-threw Blake on the play, keeping it from being a touchdown.

"I was looking left at George because we had a hitch and go," Bender said. "The corner was off, and I thought he would bite. When I came back to Blake, he was wide open.

"I think I was being a little too cautious, trying not to over-throw him. I under-threw him by a good 10 yards. I still got the completion, but I should have thrown it out there further."

And to really nit-pick, Bender barely overthrew Blake on a fly pattern down the middle of the field that went for one of his five incompletions.

All in all, though, it was another outstanding effort for Bender, who will now study tape of Jackson to prepare for what may be the biggest game of his life to this point.

"This is going to be a huge game," Bender said. "We have to make sure we prepare during our bye week."

FIVE BENDER NUGGETS:

  • On his size of 6-1 and 180 pounds: "As long as I'm over 6-feet, I don't think (Washington State) Coach (Mike) Leach cares. Being in the shotgun, you are back further, and you have better perspective, better vision."

  • On handling the pressure: "Knowing how much work you put in during the offseason that most people don't see -- throwing with wide receivers, running and lifting -- inside you know you are ready. If you are prepared, you don't have to worry about pressure."

  • On playing in the Pac-12 next year: "It's awesome to join a league that has such great competition – every team is good. And there's a lot of history there. I'm excited to know that I could possibly play in the Rose Bowl one day."

  • On academics: He has a 3.9 grade-point average and is interested in possibly studying engineering or joining the Air Force after college and becoming a fighter pilot. "But that could change," Bender said of his interests. "I'm only 17."

  • On his only superstition: "I tie my left cleat tighter than my right. I did that once in middle school, and I played well. I've been doing it ever since."

    Bender's GAME stats: 18 of 23 for 228 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs, 0 sacks
    Bender's SEASON stats: 120 of 172 for 1,641 yards, 23 TDs, 3 INTs, 4 sacks

    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.

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