Winters Mill senior quarterback Matheo Cuenca has a unique insight into football pressure situations.
While serving as the backup to all-county quarterback Alex Barnes, Cuenca was the starting kicker for the Falcons. He kept that role this year, and also replaced Barnes as the starting quarterback.
Despite all the attention the quarterback gets, Cuenca finds there’s less pressure under center.
“If you have a field goal or extra point, you only get one kick,” Cuenca said. “If you mess up, that’s all on you. If you’re the quarterback and you have one bad ball, you get the next play and the next play.”
Cuenca demonstrated that resiliency Friday night against South Carroll. He threw two interceptions on Winters Mill’s final two positions of the first half, allowing the Cavaliers to score a touchdown and field goal. That turned a 14-7 lead into a 17-14 halftime deficit. Then in the fourth quarter, the Falcons had a drive stopped at the South Carroll 9-yard line that took almost nine minutes.
The coaching staff called “Falcons,” which is their deep pass play. Cuenca took the snap, rolled to his right and fired a pass downfield in the direction of Cayden Beard.
Beard came down with the ball, winning a tug-of-war battle with the South Carroll defensive back for the game-winning touchdown.
“Our coach said ‘Matheo let it fly and give a chance to Caden,’” Cuenca said. “And once I looked that Cayden had a corner on him, I put it up there where only he could catch it.”
For WM coach Matthew Miller, Cuenca’s ability to bounce back and make that play comes from his steady demeanor.
"That’s his personality,” Miller said. “He keeps it even keel, never too high or low, That’s a great personality trait for him.”
Miller said the coaching staff has done a great job building an offense around Cuenca’s abilities, taking advantage of his ability to make plays as well as a solid group of receivers.
A year after graduating a record-setting quarterback in Barnes, Cuenca leads the county in passing yards with 1,028 yards, and has eight touchdowns.
Junior wide receiver Andrew Buzzeo leads the county with 29 catches, and Beard and junior Cam Vogel are close behind with 28 and 26, respectively. Junior Cooper Maus has 20 catches, and made possibly the best play of the night Friday, sliding to the ground in the second quarter to improbably come up with the ball and a 28-yard gain.
“We had some kids who could catch the ball, we had a kid who could throw it,” Miller said. “We put it on them to say hey let’s put the ball up and make plays and they responded.”
Cuenca has played with Beard and Vogel since they played rec, and Beard said they’ve developed a connection that’s only grown over time. After a year apart, that connection still appears to be well intact.
“It was a little scary losing Alex,” Beard said. “I think (Matheo) had to shake off the rust and get comfortable with the position.”
Cuenca has certainly gotten comfortable, and Winters Mill’s ground attack is centered around him as well. Several times Friday night, he turned botched snaps into a few yards, and had multiple designed runs. His 61 rushing yards led the Falcons, and he had a 2-yard rushing touchdown to give Winters Mill the lead in the second quarter.
Cuenca remained the center of the offense in the second half, getting a chance to make up for his early mistakes. He rewarded his coaches’ trust, stepping up when it mattered.