By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
There are holes to fill on the Hilldale offense.
There’s also a lot of leftover chemistry.
Quarterback Chandler Puckett and wideout Bradley Campbell have been keeping the pot stirring since it began to pay big dividends in the evolution of the 2012 season.
Puckett, who was the Hornets’ kicker two seasons ago, settled in at quarterback just as Campbell made a return to football after a two-year absence. The former threw for 1,229 yards on 76-of-158 passing and 14 touchdowns. The latter had 30 catches for 594 yards.
Puckett began showing promise with a 9-of-15, 148-yard, five-touchdown game against Locust Grove at mid-season, but where the real potency surfaced came in 36-23 second-round playoff win against Verdigris.
When nothing was going Hilldale’s way early on, Campbell broke clear past midfield and caught a pass from Puckett, taking it 80 yards to tie the game at 7. In a similar play to start the second half, he was again on the end of a Puckett toss for 53 yards and a score to draw within a touchdown at 20-14.
Later, Puckett found him for 44 yards on a third-and-7 play to the Verdigris 33, but an illegal shift brought the ball back. On the very next play Puckett found him again for 19 yards and a first down at the Hornets’ 37, setting up another score.
Campbell finished 7-of-13 for 240 yards, both TD passes going to Campbell, who had all but 29 of Hilldale’s receiving yards.
“He’s a go-to guy, a good athlete who will jump up, run out, go up and get it,” Puckett said. “He knows I’m going to try to get the ball to him. I told him a while back, ‘look for the ball all the time because you’re going to get it as much as possible.’”
That chemistry helped launch a higher level of self-confidence, said Hornets quarterback coach Ryan Keenum.
“The thing I’ve noticed which is huge for him is his overall confidence,” Keenum said. “Of course he’s a senior coming into a role as a leader but that confidence is helping his vocal leadership role and at the same time, when there’s something bad happens, he’s keeping everybody positive.”
Dakota Holmes played in seventh through ninth grade but hasn’t donned a varsity uniform as he comes out as a senior.
“He’s developing as a good slot guy,” Puckett said.
Sean Reheard (454 yards, 101 rushes) and junior Hunter Woods (53 carries, 289 yards) will replace Josh Cullom, who had 1,077 yards rushing. Reheard is the more downhill runner and Woods a quicker, agile type ball carrier.
Puckett also has the entire left side of the line back in guard Drew Vandiver and tackle Dakota Nail along with center Caleb Schultz.
“That’s my blind side,” he said. “That helps a lot. I know there’s still some uncertainties on the right side but we’ve got some good competition there and the best guys will surface.”
Meanwhile, Puckett is focusing on his own play — and one major objective is to improve his accuracy. His completion rate was 48 percent in 2012.
“From team camp to where I started, I think my arm is more accurate,” he said. “To get to be a better thrower you’ve just got to throw and throw and throw. Repetition is the key.”
Keenum said the makeup of this team, and the maturation of the guy behind center, will give the Hornets a different offensive look.
“Losing Cullom hurt the running game a little bit. That doesn’t take from the guys we’ve got back there now but with Chandler’s development, we’ll probably be a lot more shotgun and spread as opposed to being under center and two-back,” he said.