In first year as starting quarterback, Easton Tangquist is ready to run the show
Listen closely to Crookston football coach Scott Butt talk about his quarterback.
When Butt speaks shorthand, Easton Tangquist's last name gets shortened to its first syllable. That syllable, when said aloud, conjures up a variety of spellings: "Tang." "Tanq." Maybe, just "Tank." It's the latter that might be most fitting.
Bear in mind that Tangquist is listed at 5-foot-10, and according to Butt, weighs no more than 145 pounds.
So what's in a name? For the Pirates' first-year starter, it's all about mentality.
"He wants to run you over," Butt says. "... He's always that aggressive. I've been coaching him since he was in third grade. I had him in third grade basketball, and he was aggressive then."
Tangquist was aggressive in his first "official" start (he started once as a sophomore, but switched reps), which came in Crookston's season-opening, 14-10 win last Saturday against Roseau. The senior completed 5-of-9 passes for 44 yards and ran it 18 times to pick up 27 more (he lost 13 on an intentionally-taken safety at the end of the game) and a touchdown. He also coughed the ball up three times in the second half.
One of those fumbles directly led to the Rams' only touchdown. Another gave them the chance to tie the game or take the lead with under two minutes to play. They were mistakes, certainly, and potentially devastating ones.
To Butt, though? They all come back to that aggressiveness.
"There was a couple of times where he probably could have just went down but he was trying to get extra yards, and then they punched the ball out," Butt said. "He was just being a football player. There was a couple times where he made the wrong read, but he was doing it at 100 miles an hour and doing it for the right reasons.
"There's nothing he did that I feel was a lack of effort or just not being in the game. In some ways, he was trying to do more than he needed to do. I can live with that all day long."
There's a balance to be struck there, between the will to win right away and the composure to live to see another day. It's clear Butt thinks Tangquist has it in him.
The Pirates' starting quarterback for the most of the past three years was Leyton Salentine — a "natural athlete," bigger and more elusive than Tangquist, who could throw the ball a country mile.
Replacing a constant like Salentine was always going to be a tough task. But Tangquist isn't a mere backup being elevated into the starting role. He's a senior who's been there, done that — as much as you can be without starting. The Pirates' offense, overall, has plenty of experience working with him.
"I've always had a lot of practice reps with a lot of the guys," Tangquist said. "Wide-receiver wise, they're the guys that have been with me all of high school. I think our coaches did a really good job of getting me the reps I needed last year during practice and ... it feels super comfortable."
And he brings his own skills to the table.
Tangquist is athletic in his own right, but combines it with a "meanness," in Butt's words. He relishes contact. Salentine simply reacted to defenders and made them look silly. Tangquist plans ahead.
"Easton's athleticism almost comes more out of intelligence," Butt said. "He's so smart and knows what everybody's supposed to do. He can read what the defender's gonna do as he's coming at him."
This showed against Roseau. At the start of the game, Tangquist said, he was really quick to make decisions. As the game drew longer, he started to feel out the Rams' defense more. Being more patient. Going with the flow.
Butt noticed that Tangquist was becoming more comfortable before the snap. If he didn't like the way a play was set up; if he wanted Ethan Boll as the outside "pitch" back instead of the inside "dive" back, he would flip the play to make that the case.
Butt hates the term "game manager" in reference to a quarterback. In common parlance, it's a derogatory epithet slung at quarterbacks who don't "elevate" a team and simply try to avoid mistakes instead of hitting big plays.
Less commonly is the term used as praise — praise for signal-callers in complete control of the offense. That's Tangquist.
"I thought he handled the huddle extremely well, I thought he handled teammates well, I thought he did everything really, really well today," Butt said Saturday. "He made a couple mistakes, but they're mistakes you can coach and get better at and know why we made them and move on."
Passing isn't Tangquist's strongest suit. But two of the biggest plays he made against Roseau came with his arm.
On 4th-and-seven at midfield on the Pirates' opening drive, he completed a strike to Zach Brown for a first down. Without that throw, Crookston's 16-play, 11-minute, tone-setting touchdown drive wouldn't have happened.
In the third quarter, the Pirates were moving again, thanks mostly to Tangquist's legs. He had carried five times on the drive, picking up 32 yards, but with a minute left in the quarter, Crookston faced another fourth down.
Tangquist dropped back and dropped it in the bucket for Boll, who gained 18 yards on a wheel route to set up 1st-and-goal. Tangquist punched it in for the score two plays later.
That night, Butt and his two sons — Brady, who now plays at Jamestown but watched Saturday's game from the sideline, and Brooks, a junior lineman — were talking about the game. Butt noticed Brady and Brooks were most impressed with Tangquist's calmness, the way he knew exactly what he needed to do in his first "real" start of his career.
For evidence: the Pirates' final drive. After a Jaxon Wang interception at the four-yard line with a minute and a half to play, they knew they needed to kill all of that time, or get the first down first.
With eight seconds left, Crookston had gained nine yards in three plays. The Pirates could go for it, but up 14-8, they risked leaving enough time on the clock for a Ram go-ahead score if they didn't get it.
Butt sent the offense out. The plan: Tangquist would take the snap, use all 23 yards of the field behind him, and run around for at least eight seconds before going down in the end zone, giving Roseau two extra points but ending the game right then and there.
"I was like, 'Oh wow, this sounds actually kind of fun,' " Tangquist said Saturday. "We knew that's really all it was going to take. We could have tried other things, I'm sure, but we just had eight seconds to burn."
Again, Tangquist did exactly what he was supposed to do, going down after the clock hit all zeroes. (While an unexpected Crookston penalty gave the Rams an untimed down, it came on the kickoff, and they couldn't get any momentum going on the desperation lateral.)
"He showed the maturity of a senior," Butt said Saturday.
Should Tangquist continue showing that maturity, there could very well be more game-sealing possessions in his future. But maybe with more conventional kneel-downs at the end.
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