It had been five weeks without a win. Stats were trending in the wrong direction. It was obvious the Roseburg High School football team needed a spark.
Yet, it’s not often that change comes from a starting quarterback willingly moving to a new position to help his team.
“Let’s do it,” said Roseburg senior quarterback Jace Stoffal when the idea of making a switch at QB was initially brought up. “I didn’t have a problem with it ... I’ve always been a quarterback so it’s kind of fun to switch it up.”
The Roseburg coaching staff made the move to start the second quarter in last week’s 44-14 Southwest Conference loss to the Sheldon Irish. Junior Garrett Zeimet stepped in behind center, while Stoffal moved to receiver.
The jump-start to Roseburg’s offense proved successful as the Indians (2-6, 0-4 SWC) had their best offensive performance since Week 2 against McMinnville. Zeimet passed for 129 yards and ran for another 94 as the Tribe played toe-to-toe with Sheldon in the second half after falling behind 30-0 at the break.
Zeimet, normally a starting wide receiver, will make his first varsity start at quarterback this week in Roseburg’s regular season finale at Canby (1-7, 1-4 Three Rivers League) on Friday. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
The transition at QB has been seamless for Roseburg and it’s mainly due to the bond between Stoffal and Zeimet.
They’ve known each other since middle school and have played football and baseball together for years. Both have been gifted with a strong right arm that has led them to success on the gridiron and the diamond.
“We play about all the same positions,” Stoffal said. “We make each other better. It does make it a lot more fun having someone to be close with and joke with and make practice fun and the games fun.”
The pair grew closer last summer during their first season together on the Roseburg Dr. Stewart’s American Legion baseball team. They’re often seen together chatting on the sideline, playing catch with the pigskin and even car pooling while Stoffal’s car is in the shop.
“It was kind of a joke between us all year that I’m going to replace him,” said Zeimet, who was the backup quarterback and started at the position on JV last season.
Zeimet made it clear he only wanted to make the move if Stoffal was on board, and head coach Dave Heuberger noted the switch wasn’t a demotion.
“Our offensive woes weren’t all on Jace and it wasn’t going to be all fixed with Zeimet back there,” Heuberger said. With both players in agreement on the switch, Heuberger said “what the heck, let’s give it a whirl and see what happens.”
Stoffal has tried to give Zeimet tips on timing and defenses when he can, but the biggest positive to having the 6-foot-4 senior running routes is his knowledge of the offense.
“It’s nice having someone out there that knows that when things start to break down he knows where to go and where to find the hole,” Zeimet said. “So, I trust him … it’s just nice having a connection. You can just subconsciously know where a guy’s going.”
Stoffal caught three passes from Zeimet for 71 yards last week. The Indians will need to find that spark again when they face Canby to end the regular season.
The Cougars are coming off of their first win since 2017, but have had a number of close calls this season and play in the Three Rivers, considered one of the most difficult in the state.
Canby has moved to more of a spread offense attack under first-year coach Jimmy Joyce and is averaging 22.4 points per game.
The Cougars use an active defense that was opportunistic last week with three takeaways.
“We can’t sleep on them. They’re a lot better than they were last year,” Zeimet said. Roseburg defeated Canby 34-7 to finish the 2018 season.
Both teams will go into Friday’s finale with longshot hopes of sneaking into the Class 6A playoffs. Roseburg is ranked 38th in the OSAA power rankings and Canby is 35th. To qualify for the postseason, the winner of Friday’s matchup will likely need to jump into the top 32 to receive an at-large berth.