Dual-threat QBs set for Texan duel

Thought last Wednesday's 46-43, triple-overtime contest between California schools Mater Dei and Carson on ESPN2 was entertaining? Be sure to tune in to the same channel Thursday night (9 ET) when two high-powered attacks from Texas lock horns.

That's when Sulphur Springs (2-0) will host Wichita Falls Rider (0-1), in a game that features fast-paced spread offenses and should keep the scoreboard operator busy.

Both teams rank among the top 20 squads in the most recent Class 4A state rankings listed on TexasFootball.com, and both are coming off highly successful 2007 campaigns. Sulphur Springs went 9-2 -- winning seven more games than they had in head coach Greg Owens' first year -- while Rider's 12-win season was the best in school history.

Scott Ponder's work in five-plus seasons at Rider is nothing short of remarkable: He's led the Raiders to as many 10-plus-win seasons (two) as they had posted in the 42 years before his arrival. But that's not the main reason to tune in.

Both Rider and Sulphur Springs return major Division I talent at the skill positions. Rider boasts Oklahoma-bound wideout Eric Ward (the ESPNU 150-ranked No. 33 wide receiver in the country), who was terrific as a junior with over 1,000 yards and 15 TDs receiving. He's complemented by 5-foot-11, 191-pound RB Jurell Thompson, a TCU commit who ran for 15 TDs last fall and is the No. 56-ranked player in the country.

Sulphur Springs can count on defensive end Colton Nash, running back Ryan Young and receiver Jace Jackson, all of whom are drawing Division I interest and can take over a game at times.

But there's an even more intriguing reason to watch Thursday -- the same reason Tom Brady's injury was the No. 1 story this weekend, and Vince Young's mysterious behavior was dominating the headlines early this week -- the quarterbacks.

Thursday night will spotlight a rare head-to-head duel between two of the nation's most heavily recruited high school quarterbacks -- Sulphur Springs' 6-2, 185-pound Tyrik Rollison, the No. 17 quarterback nationally, and Rider's 6-3, 180-pound Shavodrick Beaver, ranked No. 28 in the ESPNU 150.

Aside from being heavily recruited -- Beaver committed to Michigan in May after looking at Texas Tech, TCU, Arizona, Nebraska and others; while Rollison is still considering offers from Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and others -- and possessing virtually the same physical dimensions, these two top Texans have much more in common.

Both produced tremendous results on the field last fall as juniors. Rollison was the Class 4A all-state first-team selection last year by the state's sportswriters, hitting 296 of his 423 passes (69.9 percent) for 3,691 yards and 37 touchdowns with 10 interceptions in 11 games last fall. Rollison topped 300 yards passing in eight of his 11 starts and rushed for 554 yards ands seven scores, and his first season under center was a key element in Sulphur Springs improving from a 2-8 record in 2006 to last season's 9-2.

Beaver didn't quite match Rollison statistically in the air but had a superb year in his own right, earning 4A all-state honorable mention and District 5-4A MVP honors after completing 173 of 282 passes (61.3 percent) for 2,629 yards with 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The wiry Raider signal-caller is also a rushing weapon, totaling 482 yards and five scores last season. He should do even more of that this year if Rider's first game was any indication; Beaver ran for 103 yards and two touchdowns versus Cedar Hill.

Owens concedes there really isn't too much separating these top Lone Star State quarterbacks. "After watching tape of Beaver in preparing for this game, he is pretty much a mirror-image of Tyrik.

"They both are super-athletic, great competitors, love to win and are terrific weapons in a spread offense. Of course I may be a little bit biased, but I think my guy [Rollison] is a little better of a passer," said Sulphur Springs' third-year head coach, with a chuckle.

Another thing Rollison and Beaver have in common is that they've been able to showcase their dual-threat abilities in spread offenses for the past two years. Owens has been running some form of the spread for the past 10 years, but when he arrived at Sulphur Springs two years ago, he began to incorporate some of the Urban Meyer-related elements of the attack that include the popular zone-read play and other plays that utilize an athletic quarterback's strengths.

"With this offense, the focus is getting the ball in the hands of an athletic quarterback, such as Tyrik, and playing off of his abilities," Owens said. "Ten or twelve years ago however, before we were running this type of system, we probably would have looked at a guy like Tyrik -- 6-2, 185 pounds and a gifted athlete -- and slotted him as a starter at both wide receiver and free safety and never even thought of quarterback."

This scenario has actually been commonplace in the past five years throughout the high school football landscape in Texas, a state where the past tradition had been to play a hard-nosed, run-first game. The landscape has been transformed with the advent of the spread, which has become supremely popular thanks to the University of Texas' success with Vince Young using the same system.

When Owens arrived at Sulphur Springs in 2006, Rollison was pegged as a quarterback from day one. The coach saw his athleticism as the foundation for a new-age, dual-threat spread quarterback, and Rollison's passing ability has blossomed since then.

While both Beaver and Rollison would probably list Young as a player they look up to and pattern some of their game after, they also have him to thank for the evolution of the game down to the high school level that has afforded them opportunities to showcase themselves as quarterbacks.

On Thursday night, viewers will get to see these two stars battle head-to-head.

Stumpf covers high school football for ESPNRISE.com.