By David Willis
---- — WEST ANDOVER — More than a full year later, Greater Lawrence coach Tony Sarkis still shutters at the thought of the gruesome ankle injury that derailed the junior season of quarterback Marcos Ortiz.
“It was the ugliest thing I have ever seen,” said Sarkis. “I’ve been involved in sports for a long time, and that was maybe the worst injury I have ever been around.”
The injury — which Ortiz described as his ankle and foot being “turned in the wrong direction” — may have stifled his junior campaign, but the senior signal-caller has certainly shown no lingering effects this season.
With 868 passing yards, the most for a Greater Lawrence QB since the Eagle-Tribune began keeping complete records, and 19 combined touchdowns, Ortiz forms half of the dynamic backfield duo — along with 2,000 yard rusher Cristian Rivera — that lead the Reggies into the State Vocational Bowl tonight at Lynn’s Manning Field.
Greater Lawrence (8-3) takes on Greater New Bedford (5-6), winners of two straight Tech Bowls including defeating the Reggies a season ago.
“We are really pumped up,” said Ortiz. “We came up short making the (MIAA) playoffs, so this is our biggest game of the season. If we can win this, we can walk away from the season with one championship.
“Every defense is focusing on Cristian. So when they are thinking about him, I’ll hit them with a play action pass or a quarterback run. I am fine with them not thinking about me.”
Ortiz first cracked the starting lineup for the Reggies as a sophomore, but did so as a gritty, 170-pound fullback blocking for prolific halfback Joey Pizzuto.
“I loved playing fullback,” he said. “I loved hitting and I loved blocking. So the next year, when coach told me I would be moving to quarterback I was nervous because I’m not a quarterback.”
Despite Ortiz’s reservations, Sarkis was confident the then-junior would click in the new role.
“He was pretty hesitant,” said the coach. “But we felt like he was the perfect player to step in and run our offense. He is a great athlete with a very good arm that could run or throw when we needed him to. Plus, he has a tremendous knowledge of the game.”
The Reggies, however, had little time to test Ortiz at his new position.
In the second quarter of the season-opener against Pope John XXIII, Ortiz was tackled along the sidelines and suffered a severely dislocated ankle.
“My ankle was backwards,” he said “I was screaming and pointing at it. The trainer came over and said, ‘Oh my God.’ That made me even more nervous.”
Initially believed to be out for the season, Ortiz missed eight games before making his triumphant return by running for the game-winning, fourth-quarter touchdown in a victory over previously-undefeated Blue Hills under driving rain.
“Even though he was hurt, Marcos stayed with the game,” said Sarkis. “He was at practice every day, throwing the ball from his wheelchair. So when he was cleared to play he was mentally ready to go.”
Ortiz followed that up with a game-winning touchdown pass with 22 seconds left on Thanksgiving Day, then rushed for one touchdown and passed for another in the Tech Bowl loss to the same Greater New Bedford squad.
Encouraged by Ortiz’s performance as a junior, along with his improvements in the offseason, Sarkis and the Reggies decided to open up their run-heavy power-I offense a bit this season, and the QB has taken advantage.
Through the end of the regular season, Ortiz has accumulated 868 yards and 10 touchdowns passing and 721 yards and nine scores rushing.
Since The Eagle-Tribune began keeping complete records in 1994, no other Reggie quarterback has reached 700 passing yards. His 10 TD passes mark the most for a Greater Lawrence player since Gary Desrochers in 1991 (also 10).
“He has a tremendous head for the game,” said Sarkis. “He knows when to tuck and run, he can make the short passes and he can throw it long. He still runs like a fullback and he will even block on a lot of runs. He’s unorthodox, but he gets the job done.”
Ortiz now hopes to close out his Reggies’ career with a Tech Bowl title.
“I think it would be a great way to end my career,” he said. “We will have won something. It means a lot to us, and we want some revenge after losing to them last year.”