CENTERTON -- Jake Casey had his personal goals set for the 2022 football season, and they seemed fairly reasonable at the time.
Bentonville West's junior quarterback said he wanted to throw for 3,000 yards and 25 touchdown passes this fall, but that was before he was forced to sit out a game. Now he feels like he has to make up for lost time.
Casey returned to the field last week with that in mind, and made the most of his situation. He completed 20 of 24 passes for a season-high 395 yards and a career-high five touchdowns and led West to a 63-21 victory over Rogers Heritage, allowing the Wolverines to keep their hopes of a 7A-West Conference title alive.
"It was great," Casey said. "We had a great game plan coming into the game, and we executed it really well. It's a great comeback because your confidence then rises for this next game."
Casey directed West to an early 21-0 lead in its game against Rogers when he went down with an ankle injury during the third quarter. Backup quarterback Dalton Rice then entered the game and finished with the job as the Wolverines claimed a 34-21 victory.
It eventually caused Casey to sit out the following game at Springdale Har-Ber. Rice filled in admirably by throwing for 377 yards and four touchdowns in West's 41-28 victory, but Casey couldn't help but feel that he wanted to be out there instead.
"He was telling me how much he disliked being over there on the sideline and not playing," Wolverines coach Bryan Pratt said. "So I think he was eager to get back and proved himself.
"Competition is great. When you have guys who step in there and play, it makes you as a starter know that you better be doing what you're supposed to be doing. Those two guys really mesh together well."
Casey has been groomed for this situation since he was in the fifth grade. Pratt says he has a picture of Casey with current West players Jaxson Brust, Cole Edmundson, Rice and Will Anderson when they were on the same pee-wee football team together from those days.
He was then brought up as a freshman to be the Wolverines' backup quarterback under Dalton McDonald and saw limited action there before becoming only the third true starting quarterback in West's short history a year later.
"It was huge," Casey said. "The freshman team, they don't implement the same things the varsity team does. Having that year of learning -- just grasping and soaking it all in -- really helped me in becoming a starter the next year.
"Being the starter was really nerve-wracking at first. Once I got settled in and as more games went on, I was good. I was fine."
Casey finished his first season as a starter completing 171 of 287 passes for 2,172 yards and 19 touchdown passes. Those numbers include season-highs of 403 yards and four touchdowns during West's wild 46-45 comeback win at home over Springdale Har-Ber.
After his big game against Heritage last week, Casey enters tonight's 7A-West showdown against Fort Smith Southside with 1,828 yards and 17 touchdowns on 118-of-202 passing with two regular-season games left and the playoffs.
Pratt said Casey's biggest improvement has come in throwing the deep ball, where he and wide receiver Ty Durham have connected a number of times on explosive plays.
"We knew during his sophomore year that it was going to be like drinking from a fire hose," Pratt said. "Everything was going to be a lot faster and a lot more complicated. His expectations had to be lined up with what we needed him to be doing.
"This year, he's a lot more seasoned. The speed of the game has slowed down a little bit, and we can do a lot more offensively and put more on his plate. He checks a lot of our runs at the line of scrimmage, depending on what the front is, and we have a lot of confidence in him."