Ian Brian is no magician, but there are times when it sure looks like he is.
Catholic High football coach Dale Weiner can explain, using last week’s breathtaking 49-48 victory over Brother Martin, to offer a series of examples.
“Ian has improved his game in so many ways since he became the starter last year,” Weiner said. “Our game was on TV last week, and if you go back and watch, you’ll see there were several times he carried out fakes so well it fooled the camera people,”
Brian passed for 259 yards on the night. But when an injury sidelined running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire early in the second half, the senior quarterback picked up the slack in other ways.
He ran for first downs and also gobbled up enough yardage to give the Bears the chance to convert third- and even fourth-down plays.
Can Brian run the Catholic offense efficiently enough to give sixth-seeded Catholic (8-3) the chance to beat No. 2 Evangel Christian Academy (9-2) in Shreveport? A win in the Division I semifinal would send Catholic to a title game for the first time since 1990. The Bears are in the semifinals for the first time since 2009.
Yep, that would be the magic touch. The 6-foot, 185-pound Brian insists there’s no magic. No smoke and mirrors, either.
All there is, according to Brian, is a quarterback and a team working hard and working together.
“In the offseason, I really worked on fundamental things like footwork and the arm slot — knowing where it should be when I throw,” Brian said. “I was actually told I’d be running the ball more.
“I needed to be more athletic and physically stronger. I hit the weight room pretty hard and got on the agility drills I did for strength and speed.”
Learn to run faster is exactly what Brian did. He’s run the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds, a time that will likely surprise some, but not Weiner.
“He’s really matured physically and become a true dual threat,” Weiner said of Brian. “A lot of a defenses don’t have to account for the quarterback as a runner.
“You can’t do that with him. He literally saved some drives for us last week. We were in third-and-long, and when the receivers were covered, he picked up enough yardage for a first down, or what he got allowed us to go for it on fourth down. He’s always been athletic, but now he’s got this other gear he shifts into.”
Brian’s run for 430 yards on 44 carries and scored six touchdowns. He’s also has completed 145 of 227 passes for 1,737 yards and 17 TDs with 10 interceptions.
It’s fair to say Brian is the perfect complement to Edwards-Helaire, the junior who took over the lead role in the backfield when former star Derrius Guice moved on to LSU this fall.
Edwards-Helaire has rushed for 1,249 yards and 13 TDs. He also leads the Bears in receiving with 41 catches for 660 yards and five TDs. Brian and another running back, James Berrigan, led the second-half charge against Brother Martin.
The Bears stretched to their limits, but they were comfortable stretching the field to their advantage,
“When coach (Gabe) Fertitta came in and took over our offense last year, he changed some things and spread us out more,” Brian explained. “He wants us to use as much of the field as possible. So we’ll throw screen passes and run to the outside.”
The Bears’ offensive approach will be tested by an aggressive Evangel defense that has both size and speed.
“This is the probably the most athletic-looking defense we’ve seen,” Brian said. “They are very good at confusing offenses because they have so many different looks on defense. I’m going to have to make the right reads. They’re a heavy blitz team, and we need to be aware of that.”
Even though he loves Brian’s physical skills, it’s his mindset Weiner loves the most.
“You have a lot of guys with ability, but the maturation of being able to make the right decisions doesn’t always happen,” Weiner said. “Sometimes there’s so much to comprehend that it winds up being paralysis by analysis.
“Next thing you know, the guy gets hit, or there’s a wrong decision and you lose a bunch of yards. Ian’s decision making is so much better. We trust him to make decisions.”