October 18, 2012

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Spread offense forces defense to change

By Travis Lazarczyk tlazarczyk@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

It was a subtle move, but it may have been the key to victory for the Lawrence High School football team when it played Cony High last Friday night.

click image to enlarge

BAT IT DOWN: If Lawrence’s Spencer Carey, left, played 20 years ago, he likely would have been a linebacker because of his size (6-2, 210 pounds). With more teams throwing the ball, his size is needed in the defensive secondary.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

The Rams arrived in Fairfield as the top passing team in the Pine Tree Conference Class A, averaging just over 42 points per game. To counter Cony's high-scoring spread offense, the Bulldogs tweaked their defense. Josh Doolan, normally a linebacker, played safety. The move gave Lawrence an extra man to drop into coverage, and it worked. Doolan intercepted Cony quarterback Ben Lucas twice, and the Bulldogs won 27-6.

"Everyone says we were pretty vanilla on offense in that game, but we had to devote quite a bit of (practice) time to our defense," Lawrence head coach John Hersom said. "We didn't really have a lot of time for the offense to really expand or do anything different. You kind of have to pick your weeks, as to when you can do some things and when you can't."

Over the last few years, the spread offense has become more and more popular in Maine high school football. Six high school football teams in central Maine either run a spread offense full-time, or have some plays using the system. Defensive coaches are becoming more and more creative at stopping it.

"One thing I've noticed, we've certainly got to be a heck of a lot more multiple now. You really commit a lot more time to defense during the week," Hersom said.

The days of lining up five defensive linemen, two linebackers, and four defensive backs and defending a smash mouth run game are long over. As offenses evolved from playing between the hash marks to using the entire field, defenses needed players who could cover sideline to sideline.

"Since I've been in Class A, there's always one or two teams running the spread," Messalonskee interim head coach Chapin LaBelle said.

One of the first teams to run the spread offense in Maine was Mt. Blue, in the mid-1990s. Now that they play in Class B, the Cougars see more five-man fronts. When they played in Class A, defenses approached the Cougars differently.

"In Class A, we saw more 4-2 fronts (four down linemen and two linebackers), with two strong safeties in the slot, and they'd play three deep," Parlin said. "We always tell the kids to count the number of guys in the box and make the determination... It's called the spread for a reason."

The change Parlin has seen is the result of depth. With more players on a typical Class A roster, a coach is able to make more adjustments.

"A lot of years, we just didn't have (players)," LaBelle said.

Sometimes, experience isn't as important as athleticism. Messalonskee's secondary is young, with sophomores Zach Mathieu and Jake Dexter starting, but features some of the best athletes on the team. The one senior in the group is Josh Woodard, and he's able to serve as a coach on the field, LaBelle said.

"(Woodard) can run the secondary. It's nice to have him back there," LaBelle said.

At Lawrence, Spencer Carey is a three-year starter at safety. Twenty years ago, it's likely Carey, who also plays quarterback, would have been a linebacker, if he played defense at all. Now, Carey roams the Lawrence secondary, able to come up to stop the run or drop back in coverage.

In the past, an athlete of Carey's size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) and skill would need to play closer to the line of scrimmage. Now, with more teams throwing the ball, his skills are perfect for defending the spread offense.

(Continued on page 2)

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