Virginia-Wise freshman quarterback Ty Ryans (Virginia-Wise photo)
WISE — Nobody wants his first pass as a starting college quarterback to be a pick-6.
Nobody wants his debut outing as a starter to snowball into four interceptions — two of which were returned for touchdowns.
Ty Ryans didn’t want those things either. But they happened.
Showing remarkable maturity for a true freshman, the former Cherokee standout refused to make any excuses.
“I know there are people who’ll say I’m young. But if I want to start, I can’t put myself into this situation,” said Ryans after Saturday’s 38-12 Mountain East Conference loss to the University of Charleston (West Virginia) at Carl Smith Stadium.
It’s not like the kid from Rogersville needed to be singled out for signal-calling ignominy. Headed in, Ryans was responsible for only one of the 10 interceptions three Highland Cavaliers QBs had previously surrendered over the first two games.
But four of the five picks Virginia-Wise gave up in Saturday’s dispiriting loss were his. And he took complete ownership.
“I’ve played in the rain before,” Ryans said, rebutting the suggestion that a wet ball played a role in the picks.
“It really didn’t affect us.”
Highland Cavaliers coach Dewey Lusk corroborated his QB’s forthrightness. After the second interception — the one that appeared most attributable to wet conditions — Ryans manned up immediately.
“No. He said the same thing happened last week. We’re running stop routes against the deep corner. He’s just got to get it up and over and he’s not doing it. And he knows it as soon as he does it,” said Lusk.
That is normative with freshman and sophomore quarterbacks, said Lusk, who felt that the Cavs' rushing attack and defense both made strides in spite of the final score.
Ryans — and fellow freshman teammate Jeremy Eubank — relied on protection from an offensive front almost entirely as young as they are. The Virginia-Wise starting interior line consisted of three freshmen, a sophomore and one senior.
There was some pressure from the Golden Eagles’ bigger, older defensive front. Ryans was sacked twice for minus-26 yards. But the overall pass blocking was hardly an unmitigated disaster. Factoring the experience level of the Cavs’ OL, it likely stands to improve over the coming weeks.
Saturday’s game with Charleston could have been closer at the finish. Not only did the 14 points handed to the Eagles pad the margin, Cavs receivers made at least two spectacular catches in the end zone but narrowly failed to get a foot down in bounds.
One of those completions would have narrowed the gap even more. Subtract the brace of pick-6s and two completions could have made for a vastly different ballgame.
Until it actually happens that way, that’s so much speculation about angels dancing on the head of a pin.
“We played a little better. We just need to put it all together and get a ‘W’ for our first win,” said Virginia-Wise wide receiver Terrence Younger, who had an acrobatic end zone catch for a near-miss in the second series of the second half.
That series was after Virginia-Wise, trailing 24-9, recovered a muffed punt deep in Charleston territory. Two snaps after the catch-that-wasn’t, Ryans was sacked for a loss of 16.
It proved the last opportunity to turn momentum the Cavaliers’ way.
“You can’t make any mistakes against these teams. That was a good football team we played today,” Lusk said.
Lusk has no doubt that this squad will continue to learn and grow. But with so many Division II opponents who are often bigger, stronger and deeper in scholarship talent, the Cavs probably can’t avoid serving a little detention in the school of hard knocks.
“(Ryans) made some good throws and he made some tough throws. When you’re dealing with a young team or young quarterback or any young position, it’s going to be a roller-coaster ride,” Lusk said.
“I saw (former Emory & Henry quarterback) Gary Collier standing down there, who I played with when I was a senior and he was a freshman. He saw me coming out after halftime and he said, ‘I remember these days.’
“That’s how it is anywhere you go,” Lusk said.