It was only a few years ago that Stanislaus District offensive coordinators had quarterbacks flinging balls deep downfield, going for the end zone every snap.
Downey High's Jason Lee was the state passing champion with 3,972 yards in the regular season in 2009, and two of his receivers caught more than 100 passes each.
We also had Summerville star Zach Roberson (37 TD tosses in 2009), a prolific three-year starter in Central Valley's Trevor Mew ... and a half-dozen other throwers who turned the district into a wild air show each week.
It also sparked the era of explosives offenses, bidding farewell to old-school games that would feature defenses and scores of 17-10, 24-14 or the 35-7 blowout.
Teams began scoring 40, 50 and even 60 points in games: Buhach Colony scored 79 and 69 in wins, then 47 in a one-point loss to Los Banos. Take a look this fall and you see similar scores, but most of the offenses are using the ground.
Running is all the rage in the district: The Sac-Joaquin Section's list of top running backs is dominated by kids who play ball in our region.
Steven Machado has gone from a small-town sensation to a state story: He's second in the state with 1,623 yards, and the next-closest runner in the section trails him by 423 yards. Who's No. 2 in the section? Los Banos' James Sams at 1,200 yards.
Escalon's bruising Nathan Chunn (1,122), Central Valley's explosive Ja'Quan Gardner (1,042) and Central Catholic's deliberate Ray Lomas (1,000) all hit 1,000 yards or more yards before hitting the midway point of their seasons. Four weeks of regular-season play remain, then as many as six playoff games could be played.
It used to be that running the ball slowed the game, siphoning precious minutes off the clock and preventing those pinball-machine scores. That was when teams lined up a fullback and a tailback, and pounded into the line, content to get a few yards.
Even running attacks are on overdrive, with exotic schemes forcing defenses to play sideline to sideline. It means a crease in the line, which used to net a 15-yard gain, can be a TD.
Machado ran for 330 yards in a 56-28 loss to Escalon last week, breaking loose for TD runs of 76 and 82 yards. He ran for 317 two weeks ago and is averaging 232 a game.
As offenses become more deceptive, the defense's job gets more complicated. Pitman reminded us of that last week, when it tried to halt Buhach Colony's potent and complicated fly offense.
The Thunder sent a player in motion on every snap and often Pitman's safety left the middle of the field to track him. It left much of the field untended once BC used a pull block to remove Pitman's middle linebacker.
That maneuver opened the door for Stefon Gold to run 39 yards for the game's first TD. BC's guard had blocked the 'backer, and Gold had only green in front of him. If the safety holds his ground, BC will sweep instead and exploit open areas on the edges.
Even teams that don't run the fly give defenses plenty of looks. Whether its three- or four-receiver sets forcing the defense to put a pass coverage package on the field or adopting the puzzling Wing-T or veer, deception is driving this success.
Buhach Colony got a nice emotional boost with its 28-7 win over then-unbeaten Pitman No. 2 in The Bee's large-school poll at the time, just ahead of the then-No. 3 Thunder. Now there's more good news: CalHiSports has put Serra of San Mateo at No. 25 in its state poll.
BC dropped a 36-35 thriller to 5-0 Serra a few weeks ago, and the Thunder's other loss is to 6-0 Clovis North on the bubble for the state poll.
As the teams that beat BC continue to win, it confirms coach Kevin Swartwoood is still one of the best coaches in the Stanislaus District. It was a great decision to beef up the schedule, especially given the returning talent.
Two backs had nagging injuries vs. Pitman, so BC shifted carries to Gold The Bee's Athlete of the Week Leon Miles and Jayce Webster. The trio ran 47 times for 338 yards.
Nine of 10 teams on the BC schedule are .500 or above combined they are 39-21 and BC looked like a battle-hardened team as it dominated the game.
When the section seeds the Division 2 playoffs, the two losses could be as important as any win. The D2 field will be loaded, with perhaps four or five teams at 8-2 BC's tough schedule should put it first or second in that group.