Lake Norman & Mooresville

Titans QB hits his stride as the I-Meck heats up

Hopewell has gotten a lot of attention for its running game, with star tailback Dondre' Lewis-Freeman and Denzel Heath having big nights for the Titans, but quarterback Cole Blythe has started to gain recognition of his own for his play the last few weeks.

After not having a touchdown and averaging fewer than 60 yards per game during the Titans first three games, "I started to get on a roll after the Harding game," said Blythe, who had 87 passing yards and a touchdown against the Rams. "The whole offense has been on the same page, especially Leroy (Jackson), who just came out of the woodwork."

Blythe's touchdown pass to the senior wide receiver, who had averaged only eight yards per game before the Harding game, seemed to have reinvigorated the Hopewell passing game.

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound quarterback said he and Jackson have seemed to connect in the last few weeks.

Blythe threw for 173 yards against West Charlotte and followed that with 146 against new rival Hough. Jackson caught for nearly 100 yards in both games.

"I think it's just a connection we've built, which has been the same way with the rest of my receivers," said Blythe. "At the beginning of the season, we didn't look like a team, but now everything seems to click a lot more."

The 17-year-old said the team's cohesiveness has developed naturally through the season, but added having spent countless hours throwing to his receivers before and after practice has also helped.

Hopewell coach Chris Rust said he's glad to see Blythe's hard work starting to pay off.

"He worked hard in the weight room and in practice in the offseason," said Rust. "He's starting to get a little bit more confidence on the field; now he just has to keep leading the team."

But Blythe knows he couldn't be successful without his offensive line, which features several guys bigger than 275 pounds.

Left tackle Kevin Austen (220), left guard Richie King (325), center Lyndon Johnson (280), right guard Corey Copeland (275) and right tackle Jason Sparrow (250) have given Blythe time to throw from the pocket.

"It was unbelievable; I had all day," said Blythe about their game against the Huskies. "I just think everybody's starting to mesh."

Blythe believes having Lewis-Freeman and Heath in the backfield also has contributed to his recent success.

"It takes a lot of pressure off of me," he said, explaining that as other teams bring in more defenders into the box to contain the running game, he's able to make more plays. "I'm also trying to take some pressure off of them and spread defenses out."

Rust said Blythe has realized he doesn't always have to go for the deep pass, although he has completed them to Jackson and others, instead making shorter passes and allowing his teammates to fight for yards.

Playing part time last year, splitting time with Justin Avery, Blythe threw for 722 yards and seven touchdowns. Rust said that experience has also helped Blythe this year.

He added that Blythe, a self-described pocket quarterback, has also started to see his role on the Titans' talented offense.

"We're not asking him to win the game, we just want him to manage the game and be consistent," said Rust. "As long as he does that, he'll be doing a good job for us."

Rust said the biggest improvement his quarterback must make is to not be hard on himself when he makes mistakes.

Blythe knows if he does what his coach says, he'll be able to lead his team (6-1, 3-0 in the I-Meck) to more wins.

"I want to win conference," he said. "I don't want to look ahead, but of course you have Mallard Creek in the way."

Blythe said he enjoys the responsibility that comes along with playing quarterback.

"I like the pressure," he said. "I enjoy being able to touch the football every play and decide what to do with the ball."