ESPN trucks were rolling into Phoenix Pinnacle the day J.D. Johnson found out he would be the starting quarterback on national television.
With Spencer Rattler ineligible for a Paradise Valley Unified School District code of conduction violation, it was the junior’s turn to step into the spotlight on Senior Night.
It wasn’t one of Johnson’s better games, but he did enough — 24 of 39 for 268 yards and one TD — in a 23-7 win over Scottsdale Chaparral.
Since then, Johnson has made the most of an opportunity he didn’t see coming at all this season while Rattler was wrapping up an historic season as the only passer in Arizona preps history to throw for more than 11,000 yards.
Johnson, 6-foot-4, 195 pounds, threw three TD passes against Anthem Boulder Creek, three more against Mesa Desert Ridge and two last week in the 6A quarterfinals against Mesa Red Mountain, which came in believing it had one of the toughest defenses in Arizona.
Against Red Mountain, Johnson riddled the secondary for 354 yards, completing 17 of 27, and not throwing an interception.
“He never really was unsettled,” coach Dana Zupke said. “His worst game was finding out on a Thursday morning that he was starting in the ESPN game. He has steadily improved.”
Johnson had only one previous start before the Chaparral game. That was Pinnacle’s 49-35 win over rival Scottsdale Horizon. He was 18 of 26 for 401 yards and four TDs.
He got that start because Rattler injured his ankle late in the first quarter the previous week in a 56-34 win over Phoenix Mountain Pointe on Aug. 24.
Johnson didn’t have time to process that, because he was suddenly thrown into the game. All he did was complete 14 of 17 for 250 yards and three TDs against Mountain Pointe.
“He’s been awesome,” Zupke said.