Stanford QB Pritchard excited for bowl game start
AP Sports Writer
STANFORD, Calif. (AP) – Tavita Pritchard made a memorable first start at quarterback at Stanford, leading the shocking upset two years ago against USC that started the Cardinal on their remarkable turnaround.
Even though the greatest success for Stanford has come after Andrew Luck took over at quarterback this season, Pritchard will get to end his career by starting for the Cardinal in their first bowl appearance in eight years.
With Luck nursing an injured finger on his throwing hand, Pritchard is expected to get the start for the 19th-ranked Cardinal (8-4) when they face Oklahoma (7-5) in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31.
“It’s bittersweet,” Pritchard said Wednesday. “You never want to see him get hurt. But again it’s football. Luckily enough it wasn’t a career kind of injury for Andrew. It’s something he’ll be back from. So from that point I was excited, very excited to play and to run out on the field one more time with my teammates.”
Pritchard’s first career start also came as a result of an injury. After T.C. Ostrander suffered a seizure, Pritchard was thrown right in against No. 2 Southern California in a game that was expected to be a decided mismatch.
The 41-point underdog Cardinal hung in the game that day before finally rallying to the shocking 24-23 victory on Pritchard’s 10-yard pass to Mark Bradford with 49 seconds remaining.
Pritchard led Stanford to 17 points in the fourth quarter, needing a fourth-and-20 conversion to Richard Sherman to keep the final drive alive.
That started Stanford’s resurgence under coach Jim Harbaugh, going from a team that won one game in 2006 under Walt Harris to one that was in contention for a Pac-10 title until late in this season.
“It made it very apparent to everyone in the public that we were on the rise and we were returning,” center Chase Beeler said. “The turnout on campus afterward I don’t think can be underestimated. Having probably half the student body coming out to meet the bus afterward was the jolt that really put that spark back.”
But things didn’t go quite that well for Pritchard after that. He won only two of his final seven starts that season, only twice completing more than half his passes.
Pritchard was challenged for the starting job the following season before beating out Alex Loukas and Jason Forcier. But he threw 13 interceptions and just 10 touchdowns as Stanford went 5-7 in 2008, forcing Harbaugh to consider playing Luck as a true freshman.
Harbaugh eventually decided to redshirt Luck. Once spring practice started this season, it quickly became clear that Pritchard would be a backup his senior year.
“I think it’s been difficult,” Harbaugh said. “Every quarterback worth their salt wants to play. Tavita certainly is that kind of quarterback. But there’s only one ball and that’s just life and that’s just football life. That’s the way it works.”
Pritchard said a win in a bowl game would be a perfect bookend to his career. Pritchard is regarded so highly by his teammates that he received a standing ovation at the team banquet earlier this month because of the selfless way he handled his demotion.
Pritchard has played only sparingly this season behind Luck, appearing in four games and throwing only three passes. But he has enjoyed his time as a mentor this season and watching the team’s success.
“You always want to be the guy out on the field but when the team is winning and things are going the right way that’s fun too,” Pritchard said. “It’s fun to win ballgames.”
Luck has had a stellar freshman season, giving the Cardinal a legitimate passing threat to pair with the running of Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart. With defenses needing to respect Luck’s ability to get the ball downfield, Gerhart has led the nation with 1,736 yards rushing and 26 touchdowns on the ground.
Luck completed 56.3 percent of his passes this season, with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. His 15.9 yards per completion is the second-best mark in the nation, taking pressure off Gerhart.
With Pritchard at quarterback, the Cardinal are expected to throw more shorter passes, allowing the Sooners defense to crowd the line of scrimmage in an attempt to shut down Gerhart.
“I expect him to be very effective,” Harbaugh said. “He has a lot of experience. He has prepared himself every week like he was going to play and be the starter. So he’s been ready and he’s practicing very well. We’ll put him in a position to make plays.”
While Pritchard will start against the Sooners, Luck could see some playing time as well. He is scheduled to get the pin taken out of his finger next week and should be ready to practice before the game. Harbaugh said there is a chance he could play as well.