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Pat Gucciardo made the most critical decision of his young head coaching career last night as Start tangled with Anthony Wayne.
The Spartans' first-year coach went with his gut and made a change at quarterback early in the game against the Generals.
Billy Collins, who spent last season playing quarterback on the junior varsity team, didn't disappoint Gucciardo or his teammates. The 5-11 senior came off the bench to rally Start to a 29-19 victory over the Generals.
Collins completed 12 of 18 passes for 154 yards, including touchdown tosses of 4, 8 and 41 yards. However, he was picked off three times, including two times by Anthony Wayne's Brandon Cramer, .
“I thought Billy rose to the occasion,” Gucciardo said. “Billy has worked really hard.”
Collins replaced Herman Scott, a 6-1 junior, with just over five minutes remaining in the second quarter and the Generals in front 6-0.
His presence in the huddle produced almost immediate dividends. Collins led Start on a nine-play, 67-yard scoring drive with Jared Hunter catching a four-yard touchdown pass with 1:04 to play in the quarter. It was Collins' only pass of the drive. Greg Wimberly, who finished with 124 yards on 24 carries, carried four times for 32 yards during the Spartans' first drive.
Wimberly credited Collins for providing the spark Start's offense desperately needed.
“He's worked hard every day in practice and he got the opportunity to play and he did it,” Wimberly said. “He was huge for us. He did a great job.”
“I've been waiting for this chance,” he said. “We've been rotating back and forth in practice and I was thinking that this is my shot.”
Anthony Wayne led 12-7 at halftime after Jason Sadowski threw two touchdown passes. The Generals quarterback connected on a 47-yard pass with Matt Gruenwald with 8:57 to play in the opening quarter to put Anthony Wayne ahead 6-0. He found Cramer for a 22-yard touchdown completion with just under five minutes to play in the second quarter.
Anthony Wayne took the opening drive of the second half and produced Casey Irvine's seven-yard touchdown.
That's when Collins and the offense seemed to get going.
Collins led Start on two scoring drives late in the second half to secure the Spartans' first victory after dropping the opener to Whitmer. The Spartans pulled within five points when Collins connected with Sherone White on an eight-yard slant for a touchdown with 1:16 to play in the third.
Collins teamed with Asante White midway through the fourth quarter, connecting on a crossing route for a 41-yard touchdown to put the Spartans ahead 22-19 with 8:12 remaining.