Last Modified: Thursday, June 21, 2012 6:10 PM
And the winner is ... Chris Mayabb.
All season long, the Swashbucklers have been searching for somebody to claim the quarterback position. They finally found their guy in the regular season finale.
Thanks to a stunning and somewhat surprising performance, Mayabb will make just his second start of the season in Monday night’s playoff opener in Richmond, Va.
Head coach Darnell Lee made his decision known to the team after Wednesday night’s practice.
“The players are excited,” said Lee. “They were looking for somebody to give us chemistry and fill a void at quarterback. We believe Chris is that guy.”
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Mayabb was a sizzling 19 of 26 for 289 yards and eight touchdowns in the Bucs 75-70 win over Alabama last Saturday night. That victory clinched the third seed for Louisiana and propelled Mayabb into the starting role.
“I’m very excited about the opportunity,” Mayabb said. “Everybody wants to start, but I have to give credit to the rest of the offense. It was more about the way we played then how I played.”
Mayabb’s overall performance was the key difference in Lee’s decision.
“He turned some heads,” Lee said. “Chris was outstanding. He brought back the chemistry to the offense that we haven’t had the last four weeks. I have full confidence in him.”
Lee said it was more than a numbers game when it came to making his choice.
“I like the way Chris took charge out there,” said Lee. “He looked like he was in total control of the situation. He is a field general (in) the way he plays and looks at a game.”
Mayabb gets the nod over veteran Freddie Harrison and early-season starter Alvin Bartie.
“It was a little bit of a surprise because of how good Freddie has been for us and how good Alvin is,” Mayabb said. “But I think it is more about how the team is playing and responded than anything else.
“I want to work hard now to earn that decision.”
Harrison, who came out of retirement when the Bucs came calling earlier in the year, missed last weekend’s game. He was coaching quarterbacks for the Louisiana team in the Bayou Bowl against Texas. Harrison’s full-time job is head football coach at Washington-Marion High School.
He called the chance at coaching the high school stars “a great opportunity”.
His future plans also took part in the decision. While Harrison could have played this week, if the Bucs advanced to the championship game his status would be in question. He is the best man in a wedding the following weekend when the game is expected to be played.
“That is a part of it, no question,” said Lee. “We don’t want to go back and forth with quarterbacks. We want to get into a rhythm and stick with one. We are just not sure if Freddie would have been available for the championship game.”
That’s just what the Bucs were forced to do last year. Emergency fill-in Sammy Knight was forced to move from receiver to quarterback for the playoffs when Ben McLaughlin left the team for a national all-star squad playing in Asia. Louisiana lost the title game with Knight at QB.
Ironically, it was McLaughlin’s unexpected quitting the team for personal reasons before this season’s second game that led to the Bucs calling on Harrison and signing Mayabb.
However, Harrison will be the odd man out in the playoffs this time around. He will not make the trip to Richmond as Lee picked season starter Bartie to be the backup.
Bartie has been cleared to play after missing a good portion of the season with knee and head injuries.
“Alvin has been practicing really well and we think he can come in and do the job if needed, but we are not expecting to have to do that,” said Lee.
As for how quick a hook Lee might have Monday night, he was quick to say, “it is set in stone, Chris Mayabb is our starting quarterback.”