THE POINT AFTER – The two most dynamic quarterbacks in Section II football took the field for showcase games this weekend, and with Donald Jones’ Christian Brothers Academy team playing Friday night and Jhai Vellon’s Amsterdam squad playing Saturday afternoon, I got the chance to see them play, back-to-back, a little more than 18 hours apart.
On both fronts, color me very, very impressed.
The results were different, to be sure. Jones was dazzling in CBA’s 41-25 win over Shenendehowa, while Vellon had his toughest day of the season so far as Amsterdam fell 29-8 to Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, though still made a number of highlight-reel plays and proved why — even with a number of key skill players missing — he’s been Section II’s top passer this year.
I’d seen them both before, of course.
With Jones, I saw the first appearance of his high school career, last year’s Week 0 game against La Salle Institute where he was brought in as a wildcat option at quarterback and immediately fumbled his first snap, only to make the most of second-half opportunities as he rushed for more than 100 yards and led the Brothers to victory.
I also saw him in Week 1 of this year against the same Burnt Hills team that Amsterdam faced on Saturday. Jones made a few splash plays, but it was a solid, if unspectacular performance where the Brothers largely leant on their defense and tailback Jahmir Pitcher in the win.
As for Vellon, I saw him last year in Amsterdam’s heartbreaking overtime loss to La Salle. None of that was on Vellon, who turned in one of the most impressive quarterback performances I saw all last year. That included a spectacular drive where, with Amsterdam backed up to its own 3-yard line, Vellon — then a junior — unleashed three straight runs to cover the length of the field and get the Rams in the end zone.
This week, I saw how both have evolved since those prior performances.
Since Jones played first, let’s start with him.
From the opening snap of Friday’s game against Shenendehowa, the junior was simply electric. He ran untouched 71 yards off the right side for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, and that was merely the beginning. He finished the night with 408 yards of total offense — 258 rushing, 150 passing — and accounted for two touchdowns each on the ground and through the air.
His second touchdown run of the night, a 73-yard scamper that saw him weave through the entire Shenendehowa defense as he cut back across the field, was even more impressive than the first.
As a passer, he wasn’t asked to do a ton — just four completions — but they were timed with near perfection. At 5-foot-9, he’s small enough to get low behind the CBA offensive line, fake a run and then throw a pop pass. That netted a 57-yard touchdown to Chuck Volans on his first completion, and he added a 65-yard score to Jahmir Pitcher later in the game when he initially lined up as a wide receiver and took the ball on a jet sweep before dropping back to throw.
But, to be completely honest, the most impressive part of Jones’ performance on Friday was his physicality. For a kid who’s a slight 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds, he finishes runs with toughness for extra yards, and he does it all while playing every snap on defense at cornerback and delivering some punishing hits.
It was, in all aspects, a performance for the ages.
As for Vellon, it was not the greatest day for a quarterback who has been regularly putting up historic numbers for the Rugged Rams this season. Playing against a ferocious Burnt Hills defense, Vellon was 12 of 23 through the air for 175 yards with a touchdown and an interception, plus another 33 rushing yards.
But, there were certainly some caveats. Injuries severely hampered his supporting cast, with starters Matthew Miller, Talon Hollingsworth and Jo’el Baker missing the game due to injury, while star receiver Ceasar Thompson didn’t play in the second half after taking an illegal hit to the head when grabbing a 2-point conversion pass on the final play before halftime.
If Vellon’s lunge for the goal line in the third quarter was ruled a touchdown rather than a fumble on an extremely close call that could’ve made it a one-score game, things suddenly look a lot better.
Oh, and don’t forget that he was playing a Burnt Hills defense that was also the only team to make Jones look merely mortal this season.
There were still plenty of special plays. Vellon operates Amsterdam’s spread-out passing attack efficiently, and had some impressive in-rhythm connections with Thompson, Louie Gonzalez, JaShean Vann and Marc Schultz.
And when the play breaks down? That’s where he’s truly special. He gave the Rams a spark with a 10-play, 85-yard touchdown drive in the final 75 seconds of the first half that included 33 rushing yards on scrambles, and an incredible moment where he avoided a pair of sacks before finding Vann down the sideline for an 18-yard gain.
Even on a difficult day, he backed up those gaudy numbers from earlier this year with some stellar moments.
It’s a pretty special time for Capital Region high school football with two quarterbacks of this caliber, and it’s going to be fun watching them both do their thing as the season rolls on.