It’s easy to see why R.J. Veliz admires Marcus Mariota.
Veliz, a freshman quarterback for Blanchet Catholic High, modeled his composure, playing style and overall demeanor to last year’s Heisman Trophy winning quarterback from the University of Oregon.
All of that came in handy Friday as Blanchet rallied to force overtime and eventually come away with a 27-21 double-overtime PacWest Conference win at rival Salem Academy.
It could have been easy for Veliz and the Cavaliers (6-1, 3-1) to lose their composure against the Crusaders (5-2, 3-2). Salem Academy continually made defensive stops on the Cavaliers, but could never put Blanchet away. With 1:04 to play and the Cavaliers trailing 14-6, Veliz found Ben Bartch for a 19-yard touchdown pass. Down two points, the Cavaliers tied the game on a trick play that culminated in Veliz catching the two-point conversion pass.
After both teams scored in the opening overtime, Blanchet running back Nicholas Orlandini scored on a 3-yard rush, his second rushing touchdown of the overtime session. The Cavaliers went for the 2-point conversion, but Veliz came up a yard short, meaning that a Crusaders score and conversion would give Salem Academy the win. Blanchet’s defense, however, forced two incomplete passes and later sacked Salem Academy quarterback Andrew Baker on fourth down to seal the victory.
For Veliz, playing in such a critical game — one that secured Blanchet a spot in the playoffs — wasn’t difficult to describe.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “But I’ve got to find it in myself to stay composed. My idol, Marcus Mariota, stays composed all of the time. He prides himself on staying calm, and even though he’s a rookie in the NFL, he’s putting up numbers like Tom Brady and Drew Brees.”
Veliz had the chance to meet his idol last year when he and his family traveled to Pasadena, California, to watch the Oregon Ducks play in the Rose Bowl against Florida State. A few days prior to the game, the Ducks were at a comedy club. Veliz and his family happened to be driving by and saw the Oregon Ducks bus outside of the comedy club and stopped. Veliz and his family ran into Mariota, who stopped and took a picture with the family. For Veliz, who has an uncanny resemblance to Mariota, the moment was surreal.
“My parents and my whole family always say that I look like him and so he talked to me for a little bit and then he had to go,” he said. “But it was cool that he took time out for us and called my dad ‘sir,’ my grandpa ‘sir,’ and my uncle ‘sir,’ but I just try to model my game and what I do after him.”
Blanchet coach Justin Hubbard said the 6-foot-1, 160-pound Veliz is improving as the season goes along.
“At times, our quarterback (played like a) freshman, but he made some big, big plays down the stretch,” he said. “He had some help with some veteran guys, but he definitely made some big plays … He’s growing as he goes, though. He’ll still make some freshman mistakes, but his athleticism gives us something that’s pretty special at the quarterback position.”
With the Cavaliers now in control of second place in the PacWest and a playoff spot secured, Blanchet is anxious to move forward.
“We have bigger things to do,” Hubbard said. “I think this team does a good job of going week to week and not overlooking anybody. We still have two home games in order to secure the best spot we can in the playoffs. Plus, we have Colton left and they played Salem Academy tough and took them to the wire. We’re just going to come out and be physical, and throughout the week is where we put in the work.”