Mariner needs more big plays, TDs from offense | Football

Offensive woes sank playoff hopes last year
By David Pan | Aug 29, 2018
Photo by: David R. Pan Mariner senior Roman Savchuk prepares to catch a ball during a passing drill at Goddard Stadium.

For the first time since 2013, the Mariner football team was on the sidelines last year.

The Marauders qualified for the 4A District playoffs in each of the previous three seasons and even advanced to the first round of the state playoffs in 2016.

But an offense that struggled to put points on the board contributed to a disappointing 2-5 league record and a fifth place Wesco 4A finish, out of the running for the postseason.

The Marauders averaged 17.1 points per game, the second lowest offensive output behind district rival Kamiak. The defense produced solid results, limiting opponents to 23.9 points, the third lowest in the league.

Mariner coach Mark Stewart said that the offense didn’t really have a problem moving the ball up and down the field.

“We do have to improve our big play potential,” Stewart said. “The difference is before we would always get some easy yards. I think last year we had to work for every single yard.

“We did not have enough big plays down the field either with our passing game or even our running game.”

Two quarterbacks – junior Denis Biryuk and sophomore Jackson Cole – were vying for the starting role coming into fall camp. Both impressed Stewart.

“We’re really excited about those guys,” Stewart said. “They are really, really developing and are making progress.”

Stewart and his staff decided to go with Biryuk as the starter.

“He has just a little more experience,” Stewart said. “Denis has a little more command of the passing game.”

Biryuk will make his debut when Mariner hosts Arlington in a non-conference season opener at 7 p.m., Friday, Aug. 31, at Goddard Stadium.

Stewart still has plans to use Cole, who he noted is new to the quarterback position.

“He’ll find other places to get on the field,” Stewart said.

Senior wide receiver/cornerback Jahee Nelson is excited about the potential of Mariner’s passing game.

“I think the strength of our team is our skill players and our quarterbacks’ ability to get the ball to them,” Nelson said. “That’s something we’ve never had. We’ve been mostly a run-based team.”

Senior wide receiver/defensive back R.J. Fry noted that the quarterbacks and wide receivers are becoming more and more comfortable with one another.

“Our receivers are staying after, working and making sure they’re with the quarterbacks,” Fry said. “They’re staying after and catching.”

The downside to not having a returning starter at quarterback was having to continually adjust to the different throws through the spring and summer.

Passes from each of the quarterbacks differed in speed and distance.

“It’s pretty hard to adjust to,” Nelson said. “At the end of the day, it’s our job to get the ball and make the good catches.”

Repetition is helping bridge the gap between the quarterbacks and receivers.

“It’s going good,” Fry said. “It’s just getting reps, reps and reps to see who can actually get us the ball outside.”

Stewart is upbeat about Mariner’s skill players – wide receivers Fry, Nelson and senior Roman Savchuk along with senior running backs Josiah Pesterkoff and Lamin Jallow.

The offensive line is anchored by seniors Jimmy Althar and Jason Hapaianu, both returning starters.

Stewart is shifting some other players around Althar and Hapaianu.

“We have some kids coming over from the defensive line,” he said. “We feel like we should be in pretty good shape. It’s just putting things together.”

The Marauder offensive line won’t necessarily overpower their counterparts on defense.

“We’ve got a lot of smaller linemen,” Althar said. “A lot of our linemen are very quick. We have great agility. We have a lot of good technique and that’s what teams really need.”

Missing the postseason last year was a major disappointment, especially given Mariner’s previous success.

Nelson said the Marauders have done the work in the offseason that should benefit the team this year.

“I think that it all starts with what we do here and building our foundation,” he said. “We have to pick it up. (Last year) pushes us to make the playoffs again.”

Fry also is confident about Mariner’s prospects.

“We’re going to turn it around this year,” he said.

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