By CHRIS EASTERLING
Independent sports editor
SUGAR CREEK TWP. One of the most dangerous offensive weapons on a Fairless team full of offensive weapons also may be one of the most unassuming players on it as well.
Yet, get the ball in the hands of running back Jeremy Mahaffey, and there’s a better than average chance the junior is going to do something productive with the football.
“He’s a very humble young man, and I think because of that, his teammates want to work hard to help him do well,” Fairless head coach Don Wilson said. “He’s a humble young guy; you wouldn’t know it by talking to him that’s he’s one of the most prolific backs in the area. That kind of maturity and that kind of humility really makes a difference with him.”
VIDEO: Preview of Fairless-Manchester
Mahaffey finished the regular season with 1,014 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. He then added another 80 yards on the ground and a pair of rushing scores during last week’s first-round playoff win over Black River.
On top of that, though, he has made
40 catches through 11 games for 387 yards and four more scores. The catches are third-most for Fairless, while the receiving yards are fourth-highest.
But wait, there’s more. In last week’s playoff win, he also set the tone for the Falcons when he answered Black River’s initial score by returning the subsequent kickoff 77 yards for a touchdown.
And, in the unassuming manner that endears him to his coaches and teammates, Mahaffey shrugs off the contributions he’s made to an historic season for Fairless that will continue with Saturday’s Division V regional semifinal game against Manchester at Central Catholic Stadium.
“I’m just really trying to look to make the best out of everything,” Mahaffey said. “If I get a pass on a bubble screen, I try to make the best of it. If that’s getting the first down or finding the open lane, that’s just what I try to do. I try to do everything I can to make something happen.”
There was a point in the season when Mahaffey wasn’t 100 percent capable of doing everything he could to make something happen. He broke his hand during Week 2 at Garaway, an injury that forced him to play with a thick cast.
That cast was a hindrance at times as he adjusted to playing with it. Among those times was the Falcons’ Week 4 win over the same Panthers team they will face this week.
In that first meeting, Mahaffey had just 19 rushing yards on four carries. He also had three catches for 27 yards, but admitted the cast was something he had to deal with.
“It kind of hurt me pretty bad, because we’re a passing offense,” Mahaffey said. “When I had the cast on, it was hard to catch the ball. It kind of takes something away from the passing offense. ... The Manchester game, I was kind of rough with it. I couldn’t really do much with it.”
The cast has since been removed, and the recent results show he’s much better off — as well as the Fairless offense — without it. He capped the regular season with an eye-popping 202 rushing yards and four touchdowns in a rout of rival Tuslaw, before last week’s performance against Black River.
During the last three weeks, he’s averaging over 110 rushing yards. That added dimension is something Manchester’s defense is definitely aware of entering the rematch.
“Any team that throws the ball as much as they do and spreads you out, that’s definitely your primary concern,” Manchester head coach Jim France said. “That automatically opens up some running lanes. You get so conscious of trying to defend that pass and that pass and that pass, that automatically just sets up the running game as far as draws and the short screens and straight runs.”
It’s also something Mahaffey believes makes Fairless’ offense much more varied than many pass-first offenses might be. The Falcons don’t rely solely on throwing the ball, as evidenced by the 20-plus rushing attempts they average per game.
Right at the heart of that is a running back who is perfectly content doing what he can to help his team win — with or without the accolades.
“It’s nice that when the passing isn’t going well, or you’re in a third-and-1 situation where you do need that first down, it’s a lot easier to hand the ball off than to put it in the air,” Mahaffey said. “I think it helps a lot. We can run the ball and pass the ball at the same time.”