Cortez: Running backs still thrive in the Stanislaus District

12/04/2013 5:51 PM

12/04/2013 11:06 PM

For the past few years, I’ve heard a lot of talk about the Spread offense being all the rage in high school football.

I’ve seen evidence of that this season.

Sierra High quarterback Jake Pruitt threw for more than 3,200 yards – the fourth highest total in the Sac-Joaquin Section – with 38 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. Ceres’ Brad Bussard threw for 300 or more yards in a game six times for the Bulldogs – in three of those games he topped 400 yards. Modesto and Downey high schools used spread offenses en route to the Modesto Metro Conference co-championship, and Merced, Patterson and Hilmar also made the most of their passing attacks.

If you look farther north, it gets really crazy.

Folsom’s Jake Browning (5,093 yards, 69 TDs) and Sacramento’s Caden Voges (4,139, 47) are Nos. 1 and 2 in the state in yardage, while Colfax’s Michael Wilson (3,560, 46), No. 7 on that list, completed 21 of 37 for 321 yards in a 57-27 loss to Central Catholic on Nov. 22.

“If you’d have told me 10 years ago that somebody would have 69 touchdown passes in a season, I’d have said you were crazy,” says Pacheco coach David Snapp, who’s still committed to a run-first philosophy. “We coaches used to be a conservative lot, but these younger coaches are not afraid to try to these things … and they’re becoming really good at it.”

But despite the growing infatuation with passing the football, running backs still thrive in the Stanislaus District.

Four players – Ripon Christian’s Andrew Brown (2,781), Central Valley’s Ja’Quan Gardner (2,467), Central Catholic’s Matt Ringer (2,017) and Le Grand’s Ryan Martinez (2,010) – went over 2,000 yards rushing for the season. A fifth, Orestimba’s Steven Machado, was close to 2,000 as a junior and would’ve challenged the milestone this season if he hadn’t suffered a hamstring injury that prevented him from playing in all but one game. Three district teams – Central Valley, Stone Ridge Christian and Hughson – had two players rush for more than a grand. In fact, nine of the top 20 rushers in the Sac-Joaquin Section reside in the Stanislaus District.

Last year there were three 2,000-yard rushers in the district – Escalon’s Nathan Chunn, Central Catholic’s Ray Lomas and Los Banos’ James Sams – plus another 20 who went over 1,000.

So, what’s the deal? Are teams passing more or aren’t they? Well, they are, and in an odd twist, that may result in more effective running attacks.

“When teams get your defense spread out sideline to sideline, it creates run options up the middle,” said Central Valley coach Jason McCloskey, who had a 2,000-yard back in Gardner and a 1,000-yard rusher in quarterback Kendel Johnson. “It’s literally a numbers game.”

One-on-ones

Back in the day, offenses lined up with two, sometimes three, running backs and two tight ends. It hardly mattered that defenses loaded the box – that area directly opposite the offensive linemen, within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage – with 10 defenders. The offense was looking for a way to exploit a double-team at the point of attack.

“What we’re looking for now are one-on-ones,” said Merced coach Rob Scheidt, who uses the Spread. “It doesn’t matter if that’s happening with the back or the receiver. The more one-on-ones you get the better off you’re going to be.

“If you look at our stats, we’re probably about 50-50. A good spread team is going to run the ball effectively.”

Downey coach Jeremy Plaa – who has used the Spread en route to back-to-back MMC titles – ran the Power-I when he coached in Gustine.

“That’s what the community was used to – three running backs in the backfield; power football.”

But Plaa soon realized he was doing defenses a favor.

“When a team has 10 guys in the box, instead of just five or six, it increases the ways a defense can attack. If a defense only has five in the box, there’s only so many thing a defense can do. It forces a defense to declare how it’s going to defend you.”

Plaa also points out that most Spread teams are also up-tempo teams, getting about 15 to 25 more offensive plays per game. That, too, contributes to inflated numbers – passing and running.

So, while it seems more and more teams are ditching traditional running offenses for the Spread, it doesn’t mean they’re giving up on running the ball.

“We’ve all been around long enough,” said Snapp. “Winning games still, and always will be, based on running the football and playing good defense.”

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