BALTIMORE – Kevin Mechas never expected this type of debut.
The 5-11, 150-pound freshman quarterback from Bishop Canevin High School was doing what he does for most of Washington & Jefferson College’s football games Saturday.
He was watching and learning.
Suddenly, the coaching staff was calling his name and telling him that he had to go into the game to make the offense work against a good defense in Johns Hopkins.
And this wasn’t just any game. It was the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs, and the two quarterbacks in front of him on the depth chart – junior Matt Bliss and sophomore Shane Smith – had already had their turn and were knocked out by injuries.
“I didn’t think I would be going in,” said Mechas. “It was tough.”
Mechas played well at times, and at other times looked like someone making his college debut, but he battled hard through what was a losing cause.
The Presidents were routed by Johns Hopkins, 42-10, in the first round of the NCAA Division III football playoffs in Baltimore.
This defeat ended the Presidents’ season, but it provided a peek into the future of Mechas. He completed 16 of 35 passes for 155 yards and even threw a touchdown, a 14-yard scoring strike to Hunter Creel in the fourth quarter. That also was the quarter when he threw his two interceptions, the latter one setting up the Blue Jays’ final score.
“I get a few snaps during the week when the (second team) goes in,” said Mechas, who showed off a strong arm on some deep throws. “After I was in there for a few plays, everyone picked me up.”
During most practices, Mechas is watching and learning, the two most important aspects that will help a quarterback pick up the intricate no-huddle offense of head coach Mike Sirianni. Mechas spent the season as the third-string quarterback.
He became the second string quarterback when starter Matt Bliss went down with a severe concussion near the end of the first quarter. He became the starter when Shane Smith, who is normally a defensive back, went down with an ankle injury in the second quarter after replacing Bliss.
“Kevin has a bright future,” said Sirianni. “You consider the circumstance that he went into, and you can see that it’s bright. He showed me something.”
Mechas’ opportunity might not have arrived so soon if it had not been for an injury to Andrew Cappucci in camp in August. Cappucci, a senior from Mt. Lebanon, was supposed to fight Bliss for the starting job, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury, and W&J suddenly had a shortage of experienced quarterbacks.
Mechas expected to wait his turn, just as he did at Bishop Canevin High School, where he started his senior year.
“Matt Butter was a three-year starter,” Mechas siad. “I was behind him.”
In Mechas’ senior season, he led the Crusaders to an 11-1 record and a spot in the WPIAL playoffs. Bishop Canevin lost to Sto-Rox in the semifinals.
The hardest part about his baptism under fire against Johns Hopkins was finding an even emotional level between the excitement of making his first college start and it ending with a disappointing loss.
“I definitely wish I could have done more,” he said. “Getting experience as a freshman is good for the future. I just hope I keep impressing the coaches.”