Mead quarterback Jason Lewis got the Panthers into the state playoffs.
Now, it appears, they’ll have to carry on without him.
Lewis fractured a non-bearing bone where the tibia and fibula join in his right leg while guiding Mead past Gonzaga Prep last Thursday to clinch the playoff spot.
The current prognosis is that he will be in a cast for six to eight weeks, although he is seeking a more optimistic second opinion.
“It’s a super long shot, but I’m trying to see if I can get the cast off in three weeks and play in Walla Walla,” said Lewis.
It was only the latest mishap for an athlete who had come virtually from nowhere to stardom as the Panthers field general.
Then, during early season practice, Lewis scraped his elbow, and it infected and turned into blood poisoning.
The last Friday in September he sprained his ankle just before the end of the first half against University and missed the next week’s game.
Pronounced fit before the Gonzaga Prep game, Lewis completed seven straight passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns in the first half before he was injured.
“I was hot and felt there was no stopping me,” said Lewis.
“Then my shoe grabbed the (artificial) turf, my leg went one way and the shoe didn’t go with it. Turf is the anti-Christ.”
But Lewis and his coach, Mike McLaughlin, remain philosophical in the wake of his injuries.
“There are two ways to look at it,” said McLaughlin. “It’s unfortunate timingwise.
“But at least he got a chance to play, and last week he won it for us.”
McLaughlin pointed out that last year running back D.J. Funk dislocated his ankle before the season’s first game and didn’t get to play at all his senior year.
Lewis offered his own perspective.
“I wish it hadn’t happened at all, but I’m happy it didn’t happen earlier in the season,” he said.
Besides, no one had heard of Jason Lewis before the first game.
A lineman and running back until his freshman year when coaches discovered his arm, it took two more seasons before he was considered a potential starter.
“We weren’t sure (if he could start),” said McLaughlin.
“Physically we knew he could do it. The question mark was what decisions he would make around noise (in a game).”
The questions were quickly answered in Mead’s first three games, including contests against Greater Spokane League champion Central Valley and third-place Lewis and Clark, when he completed 25 of 60 passes for 435 yards.
For the year, Lewis completed 69 of 115 passes for 888 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Mead’s second-year passing game offense relies on a quarterback’s ability to pick out receivers based upon defensive reads.
McLaughlin said, “He’s the best quarterback I’ve had as far as decision making.”
Lewis attended five football camps and during his sophomore and junior years was content to play junior varsity, saying he was still mediocre as a quarterback.
During the summer he threw to a teammate all summer, improving his arm strength and refining his knowledge of Mead’s passing game.
By fall he was ready.
“A lot of people don’t like to wait. I looked at it as a learning experience,” he said.
“I knew my time was coming.”
It came this year on a team that rose beyond an inordinate number of injuries to clinch its seventh straight state playoff berth.
The team’s best returning lineman quit, and there followed the succession of mishaps that claimed senior linebacker Beau Chander for the year and seven others for various lengths of time, including senior linebacker Larry Carnahan, who played last week with a cast on his broken wrist.
“Again,” said McLaughlin, “it points to the resiliency of this team. These are not minor guys we lost.”
Thus you believe Lewis when he says of his own misfortune, “It gives another guy a chance to step up, play his heart out and win the game.”
That doesn’t mean Lewis isn’t disappointed that his season might be over and that he won’t quarterback Mead in the state playoffs.
“I was really just starting to peak,” Lewis said.
“I was going up, up and up. Now I’m down, down, down.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo