Some things I think I think:
Is it possible the spread offense and its numerous variations have run their course at the high school football level?
Sure seemed that way during Wednesday night’s Tolman-Shea game when neither team looked efficient on offense in a 7-0 Tigers victory. Both teams appeared to be mirror images of one another on offense as they operated out of the shotgun on almost every play, blending in elements of the spread and wildcat formations, sending backs into motion on almost every play.
Tolman got its only touchdown on a blown defensive assignment by Shea that left halfback Andre Gilbert open in the right flat for an easy 29-yard touchdown reception. Otherwise, the rival defenses and officiating crews dominated the game.
Tolman, a successful squad that finished 7-4 overall, averaged over 30 points per game during its league season, then managed just one TD in a 13-9 playoff loss to Cumberland, which blitzed effectively through the middle of the Tigers’ offense.
“Like any offense, you have to execute plays to make it work,” Cumberland coach Chris Skurka suggested when asked about the spread offense on Sunday.
The Clippers run a hybrid offense (to use Skurka’s description) that is based in a Wing-T concept. Quarterback Brendan Guerin is an effective passer in the pocket and that opens up the field for his running game. St. Raphael Academy is another D-II contender that bases its offense around the Wing-T, an old school formation that comes and goes in terms of popularity. Both teams only go to the shotgun formation in passing situations.
Tolman was not an effective passing team in 2010 and still managed to reach the D-II Super Bowl before losing to Woonsocket. The Tigers looked a lot better throwing the ball this season with quarterback Luis Rodrigues showing a strong arm. But in the end, Tolman couldn’t score when it needed to against a tenacious Cumberland defense in the D-II quarterfinals.
Football is a copy-cat sport when it comes to innovations. The spread offense first gained notice in the college ranks in the mid-1990s. One of the early innovators was former Brown University coach Mark Whipple, who took it to UMass and won a NCAA Division I-AA championship with it in 1998.
The University of Florida won national titles in 2006 and 2008 with Tim Tebow operating out of the spread/wildcat, utilizing a shotgun formation to either run or throw the football.
The NFL has never bought into the spread. Cynics laugh at Tebow’s ability to throw the football in the pro ranks, even as the second-year QB wins games with his power running and a strong defense that allows his team to win while scoring 17 points or less per game.
Teams that run the spread formation, or the wildcat, accept the risk of snapping the ball to a quarterback/running back located four or five yards behind the line of scrimmage. At the high school level, this distance increases the risk of turning the ball over more frequently than if the player is just taking a direct snap from center.
Penalties are also more common within these multiple offenses as halfbacks are in motion on almost every play. That was certainly the case in the Tolman-Shea game, where the officiating crew called more than 20 penalties.
After 10 seasons, maybe it is time to ask this question: Do high school coaches get maximum efficiency out of their players by asking them to run a complicated offense? Is there really enough practice time available at the high school level to create a consistent level of precision?
That’s just me, a sports writer, asking the question. Coaches know a lot more about their teams than I do.
It will be interesting to see if Cumberland can avenge its 20-13 loss at Chariho in mid-September when the Clippers visit the Chargers on Tuesday night in the D-II semifinals. The Clippers were still trying to find themselves in September. They dropped a 14-7 decision to Westerly a week later before reeling off seven straight wins.
Once again, the D-II playoffs have created the most competitive playoff field. It sure helps that eight teams make the playoffs in the state’s largest division. But look at these semifinal matchups: Cumberland (5-2) at Chariho (6-1) and Central (5-2) at Westerly (5-2).
All four of those teams came out of II-A. The top II-B qualifiers – Tolman, West Warwick, St. Raphael and Mount Hope – were ousted in the quarterfinals. Central, which was unbeaten until losing to Cumberland and Chariho late in October, might be the best team of the four. There’s really not much to choose among all four semifinalists.
The Division IV playoffs also hold strong interest for Blackstone Valley football fans. Talented Central Falls, 5-3 in league play, visits North Smithfield (6-2) on Tuesday night with the winner advancing to Sunday’s Super Bowl. The Northmen handled C.F. by a 27-6 margin on Nov. 11. Beating the same team twice in the same month is always tricky business, especially against a Central Falls squad that can run the ball effectively and beat teams over the top with its passing game.
North Smithfield coach Wes Pennington and his staff did a helluva job rallying their players following an 0-2 start to the regular season. The Northmen were just awful in early September during an 18-10 loss to Hope, turning the ball over six times against a team that would finish just 2-5 on the season. Then they got buried 28-7 by Smithfield a week later. At least the Sentinels turned out to be a good team, finishing 6-2 in the league and earning a playoff date with Mount Pleasant (also 6-2).
The Northmen have a high football IQ, which is a tribute to both the players and the coaches. They’ll need to play smart to beat Central Falls.