(CTN News) – On a screen, Easton Stick’s first pass was intercepted by rookie wide receiver Quentin Johnston for a loss of two yards.
In his second throw, he attempted to hit running back Joshua Kelley but his throw fell incomplete in the flat. With the Chargers going three and out, his third hit nothing but turf.
A night like that?
A 34-17 exhibition win over the Rams on Saturday night at SoFi Stadium improved Stick’s fortunes significantly. Justin Herbert, the Chargers’ offensive leader when the regular season begins Sept. 10, wasn’t exactly forgotten by Stick.
As Herbert’s backup, he quickly rose to the challenge. During the Chargers’ two-minute first half drill, he made two field goals and a touchdown. With 17 seconds left, he hit Johnston with an 8-yard touchdown pass.
By halftime, the Chargers led 20-7, and Stick completed 14 of 21 passes for 109 yards. In addition to Kelley’s 54 yards on nine carries, Isaiah Spiller gained 27 yards on five carries for Stick and the Chargers. The starting back Austin Ekeler did not play.
Most of Saturday’s game was a battle between backups.
This was Stick’s chance to prove himself as Herbert’s backup. After Herbert and veteran journeyman Chase Daniel of the Kansas City Chiefs,
Stick ranked third on the Chargers’ depth chart behind Herbert.
The Chargers drafted Stick in the fifth round out of North Dakota State in 2019 and he was asked if he felt more confident this year than last. “I haven’t played much, but just attending meetings, watching Justin play gives you an idea of what it’s like.
“This is my fifth year here. “I have certainly grown in confidence.”
In the first half, Stick connected with Johnston three times, including the eight-yard score that capped a 10-play, 75-yard drive that took 1:31 and gave them a 20-7 lead at halftime when he didn’t have the Chargers’ top receivers as targets.
Kellen Moore, the new offensive coordinator, guided Stick in mixing short passes with runs that kept the defense off balance. An 18-yard gain and first down at the Rams’ 35-yard line resulted from Stick’s pass interference penalty.
Later, Stick’s scramble set up his touchdown pass.
“I thought Easton’s experience shone through in that two-minute drill,” Staley said. “He managed the clock well. He made a few big plays with his legs. Two timeouts allowed him to find the back several times, which can be really helpful for you.
In the middle eight (minutes of a game, including the final four of the first half), for him to throw that ball on time to ‘Q’ (Johnston) was a huge swing for us. His body position and balance are leading to greater accuracy.”
On the touchdown, Johnston said his shoe was untied.
“I didn’t know I was going back in then,” said Johnston, the Chargers’ first-round pick out of TCU. I put it on and ran into the huddle.”