STERLING – Evan Bushman’s first varsity quarterback start is one he won’t soon forget.
In Week 1 against Rockridge, the Newman sophomore led a game-winning touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter.
The drive, which spanned 92 yards and lasted almost three minutes, culminated in a 3-yard touchdown pass from Bushman to senior wide receiver Isaiah Williams with five seconds left.
The improbable play lifted the Comets to a 12-7 win Friday, Aug. 25, and avenged a pair of 2022 losses to the Rockets.
The touchdown play didn’t go the way it was drawn up; a route adjustment by Williams and Bushman’s trust in him made it work.
“It’s kind of funny. They told me to run a wheel to get to the back corner of the end zone, but I didn’t think that route was going to work, so I just kind of went with the slant,” Williams said. “I told Evan if I wasn’t open, just kind of throw it up, and he did, and we got it done.”
There was good initial coverage on the touchdown play. Bushman rolled to his right and didn’t see anyone open at first. Moments later, he saw Williams flash across his face in the middle of the field and all he could think of was to give him a chance.
“I kind of rolled out and I didn’t really see anybody open until the last second. Then I saw Isaiah. He told me if he was there, just lob it up. I did, and he ended up catching it for the game-winning touchdown,” Bushman said. “At the start, I wasn’t sure if I was going to deal with all that pressure, but at the end I knew I overcame and I felt great getting up and knowing he scored my first-ever varsity passing touchdown.”
Newman got the ball back down 7-6 with just over three minutes left in the game. Led by Bushman, and a big chunk play to senior wide receiver Mac Hanrahan, the Comets positioned themselves for the last-second win.
“We were around the 9-yard line or something and we ran a bubble-go pass, which is basically like a fake. You fake the bubble pass to the right and then it was like a 30-yard pass to me, I think,” Hanrahan said. “So then we were about halfway down the field, and then we just kept passing it. Evan was slinging the ball. We got a lot of good passes out of that drive. I think we got to about the 3-yard line with about five seconds left, and Evan, he kind of rolled out to the right and was kind of falling back and he passed it to Isaiah, and Isaiah caught it over the defender. So that was really exciting. That was really cool.”
Bushman finished his varsity quarterback debut with 12-for-24 passing for 127 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Not a bad day at the office.
Head coach Mike LeMay was impressed.
“His first start, his toughness was fantastic. He kept his eyes down the field, went through his progressions, made plays with his feet that were needed,” LeMay said. “Ultimately, we see it going forward and expect him to be able to perform under pressure just like he did in that situation and be able to command the offense in general. And I think he’s done a nice job. I didn’t expect that to go that way, and then we got into that situation and he excelled when it mattered under the lights, so I was excited to see that.”
Bushman’s poise, toughness, command of the offense and ability to see the field have stood out to LeMay from the beginning of the season.
“He reads through his progressions really well, so he doesn’t just eye one particular target; he focuses on the concepts of what we’re trying to do passing. He knows where to go first and works through,” LeMay said. “And he’s just really poised. I think we saw it in practice. He’s taken some hits throughout the summer and so forth, sometimes unintentional, but he always gets back up, and I think that speaks to his toughness and character. His focus, his command of the huddle, it’s been really good for a sophomore, and now I think when you have that game and that situation, a lot of the older guys start to see that and say, ‘Wow, yeah, this is pretty good if we can go ahead and make this work.’ "
Williams sees a major difference in the sophomore from last season to this season. The biggest improvement from his perspective? Field vision.
“Just right off the bat, in comparison to last year, just a lot better. He read his keys, and he did a lot better job of seeing both sides of the field,” Williams said. “Last year, we kind of tunnel-visioned to one side. He did a lot better job of seeing the whole field.”
After his first start, Bushman sees room for improvement, but considering he’d never started a varsity game before, he was happy with how the last game went.
“I feel I did pretty well for my first start. There’s definitely room for improvement all-around, but I think that second half, I really flipped a switch,” Bushman said. “I think our offense will get better as the seasons goes. The first week was kind of iffy, but there’s definitely room for improvement, and we’ll get better as the season goes on.”
Hanrahan and Williams expect continued improvement from their sophomore passer.
“He did really good. I think the first half was definitely rough for offense, but I think once he got comfortable, he was doing great,” Hanrahan said. “He was reading all his keys, he was rolling out, he was staying in the pocket, he was doing great.
“I think he’s only going to improve. He’s a sophomore and he did great in his first game with a lot of pressure, so I think that really the only way he can go is up. So I expect him to do really good this year.”
LeMay thinks Newman can have more of a run/pass balance this year with Bushman at quarterback. He also expects fellow sophomore quarterback George Jungerman to be a factor with his arm and legs when he returns from a broken collarbone.
The Comets like their young passers and hope to incorporate them to make their team as versatile as possible.
“I think we’ll have more of a run/pass balance. It still is a mentality of establishing the run. If you can’t establish the run, especially at the high school level, it’s really hard to maintain success throughout a game,” LeMay said. “Some teams work on passing quite a bit, but when you have that balance, it really opens up a lot more of what you want to do. I think we may be a little bit more balanced, but not to be mistaken, we’re still run-first and that’s how we operate.”