Madison quarterback Kareem Coles eludes Marin Catholic's Alex Poksay in the third quarter of Saturday's Division III state bowl championship game at the Home Depot Center.
CARSON — The way a hush fell over the Home Depot Center, you would have thought some star senior had gone down.
It was late in the third quarter of Saturday’s Division III state championship bowl game when trainers rushed to midfield and gathered around a player lying on his back.
Kareem Coles’ legs were cramping, and badly. An afternoon of scrambling around the pocket had finally caught up to the Madison High quarterback — amid the heat of competition, he’d forgotten to drink enough water.
“That’s just me not taking care of my body the right way,” Coles said afterward. “Now I gotta learn just to take care of my body more.”
Consider the learning process accelerated. After helping the Warhawks to their first state title in a 38-35 come-from-behind victory over Kentfield Marin Catholic, Coles will enter next season as a wise, old junior.
Saturday, the sophomore did what sophomores are not supposed to do on a championship stage. Arizona-bound teammate Pierre Cormier owned the day with 272 yards rushing and three touchdowns, but it was Coles who owned the play of the game.
With Madison trailing 21-0 early the second quarter, Coles saw the blitz coming. But just as he was about to alert his teammates, the ball was snapped.
Then it was flying over his head. Then it was bouncing on the turf.
And then this happened: Coles scooped up the ball on the run, scrambled to his left and, with defenders closing in, calmly lofted a pinpoint pass down the sideline to Lee Walker, hitting the senior receiver in stride for a 50-yard touchdown.
What should have been a 15-yard loss had turned into the Warhawks’ first score of the game. They would tack on 24 more points before a stunned Wildcats team finally answered.
In the span of a few seconds, Coles had changed the course of a 48-minute game.
“I call him super sophomore,” said Walker, another Arizona commit. “Without his perfect throw, I couldn’t have made the play.”
“He’s just gotten so good,” Madison coach Rick Jackson said of Coles, a first-year starter who led the junior varsity team to an undefeated record in 2011. “Usually, you get a quarterback who will just fall on (the ball).”
In Coles, the Warhawks get a 6-foot lefty with all the tools to master their spread-option offense. He throws an awfully pretty ball, as evidenced by his broken-play connection with Walker and, later, a 38-yard TD strike to junior Michael Garner. His speed (as a freshman, he ran the 100-meter dash in 11.44 seconds) and agility (Saturday, he darted through the defense on a 25-yard keeper) make him equally dangerous as a runner.
And, best of all, he easily has more big-game experience than any sophomore quarterback in San Diego. (After Madison triumphed in its 15th contest of the season Saturday, you could argue he has more big-game experience than some seniors.)
Coles’ final line didn’t overwhelm. He completed 8-of-21 passes for 149 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He gained 38 yards on 11 carries. (He finished the season with 23 passing TDs and eight rushing scores.) After the cramping became so severe he had to retreat to the tunnel, he returned in the fourth quarter and promptly lost a fumble.
But he made those mistakes under the glare of a championship stage. And the super sophomore still did more good than bad.
That makes him someone to watch — for the next two years and, if Saturday was any indication, beyond.
“I’ve known him since I was in fifth grade,” said Cormier, who received more than a dozen scholarship offers before committing to Arizona. “In my opinion, he’s gonna be a D-I guy. He’s definitely someone who’s gonna have a lot of eyes on him.”