— By GREG WEBB
When you see the post-game statistics in the football recaps, the skill players are the focus of numeric documentation for yards carried, touchdowns scored, passing/receiving yards and the like. But ask a coach — any coach — just what makes the offense go, and more times than not you will hear the precise phrase “it all starts with the line.”
The big guys up front are tasked with protecting the quarterback in the pocket, clearing the path on running plays and screens, and joyfully get to make diminutive defensive backs more than a bit nervous when they find themselves on the business end of an O-lineman blocking down field.
The success of area offenses are in direct relation to the effectiveness of the players in the trenches, particularly heightened this time of the season, as four of the five area teams begin district play.
Aledo at Arlington Heights
Time: 7:30 p.m., Friday
Site: Farrington Field
1501 University Drive, Fort Worth
Type: District 7-4A opener
Last year: Aledo 45, Arlington Heights 2
FW Arl. Heights Yellowjackets (0-3)
Last season: 2-8 overall, 2-5 in District 7-4A
Last week: Idle
Players to watch: S Kabione Guy (5-11, 190, 4.6); QB/ATH Deion Griffin; WR Elijah Peterson (6-0, 180, 4.6); LB Romello Davis.
Aledo Bearcats (3-0)
Last season: 10-2 overall, 7-0 in District 7-4A ,
Class 4A, DI area finalist.
Last week: Idle
Players to watch: LB Jordan Mittie (6-2, 210, 4.8), OT Cory Stitle (6-2, 265, 5.0), QB Luke Bishop (5-10, 170, 4.7), ATH Ryan Newsome (5-8, 168, 4.5), FB Daythan Davis (6-2. 218, 4.7)
Game notes: Aledo head coach Tim Buchanan has individual praise for his starting O-line which translates to being pleased with the performance of the unit through the non-district season. The Bearcats are producing nearly 500 yards of offense per game, due to the efforts of a proficient line and a talented group of ball transporters behind and beside them.
“Ernie McQuade (left tackle) moved in from Georgia this summer when his dad was transferred to Lockheed Martin. He has picked up our terminology and [offensive schemes] very well,” Buchanan said. “At left guard, Wes Harris,is the best freshmen offensive lineman we have coached. If he continues to work hard, he will be the best O-lineman to ever come out of Aledo.
“Our only returning starter this year is center Caleb Buchanan. A unanimous All-District selection as a junior, Caleb has helped the young guys develop.”
Buchanan also paid kudos to junior Ruben Moxley, who has filled in at right guard for senior starter Preston Braham, who was injured in the first week. The coach has also been impressed with sophomore right tackle Hunter Harris, who has worked very hard at his position — hard enough to win the starting job from a senior.
Aledo opens district against a winless Arlington Heights squad who is under the direction of a new head coach (though he was the offensive coordinator last year) and a different quarterback the Yellowjackets thought they would have coming into the 2013 season.
The ’Jackets, who also started slow last year, are hoping to grow up quickly enough this season to elevate to at least the second tier of the finishers to grab a playoff spot. They will no doubt learn some lessons this week in their tilt with the Bearcats, but will have to wait another week, and look to Trimble Tech for its first win of the season.
Springtown vs Graham
Time: 7:30 p.m., Friday
Site: Porcupine Stadium
Type: Homecoming; Non-district.
Last year: Graham 32, Springtown 28
Graham Steers (4-0)
Last season: 13-2 overall, 4-0 in District 5-3A
Class 3A, DII semifinalist
Last week: Beat Breckinridge, 44-0.
Players to watch: QB Ben Davis (5-11, 175, 4.6); RB Dillon Gonzales (5-9, 160, 4.4); WR Bryce Reeves (5-10, 170, 4.7); NG Husky Melendez (5-11, 290, 5.4).
Springtown Porcupines (1-3)
Last season: 6-5 overall, 4-1 in District 6-3A
Class 3A, Div. II, bi-district finalist.
Last week: Lost to Gainesville, 41-18.
Players to watch: LB Kolyn Waldrop (6-1, 225, 4.7), WR Ryan Hester (6-0, 190, 4.8), DB Collin Rector (5-7, 160, 4.7), RB Ryan Snow (6-1, 170, 4.6), WR Dillon Springfield (6-1, 160, 4.4), QB Landry Turner (5-10, 165), WR Dylan Ray (5-11, 160, 4.8).
The Pojo offense is another high producer thus far in the season, although wet-ball conditions the Gainesville defense put a hitch in their point-scoring get-along last week at Leopard Stadium, holding Springtown to a season-low 18 points. Turnovers killed Springtown’s offensive efforts, who out-gained Gainesville in total offense, 445 to 266.
Despite the loss, head coach Brad Turner acknowledges the value of his still-progressing O-line to keep the offense high-flying.
“For a team that averages 500 yards a game you have to have an offensive line that run blocks and pass protects well,” Turner said. “They have done a good job so far, but we are constantly working to improve up front.”
Graham hosted Springtown last year after a dominating 4-0 start to their season, but just slipped past Pojo by a 4-point margin. Having repeated the feat in 2013, the Steers have to come to Porcupine Stadium this time around, and face the prospect of an even higher-scoring affair than last season’s shootout.
Graham has virtually all of its skill players back and have been terribly solid in their non-district slate. If Springtown can hold its head and get the offense rolling early, the outcome may very well depend on who blinks first.
Millsap vs. Rio Vista
Time: 7:30 p.m., Friday
Site: Bulldog Stadium
Type: Homecoming; District 6-2A, Div II opener.
Last year’s result: Rio Vista 31, Millsap 7
Rio Vista Eagles (1-2)
Last season: 4-6 overall, 3-4 in District 6-2A, Div. II
Last week: Idle
Players to watch: TE/LB Chase Hailey (6-0, 190, 4.6); QB/FS Nick Russell (5-10, 190, 4.7); OL/DL Evan Roper; OL/DL Jacob Waits.
Millsap Bulldogs (1-2)
Last season: 0-10 overall, 0-7 in District 6-2A, Div. II
Last week: Idle.
Players to watch: LB Timothy Newberry (6-1,195, 4.8) RB/LB Dylan Burton, OL/DL Tre Newby, OL/DL Mitchell Coker, RB/DB Coleman Hutchison, WR/DB Kaden King, OL Clint Holloway.
Game notes: Bulldog land has shed the long-suffering goose egg in the left-most column of its record, and has set about the business this week of leaving the celebrations behind them without losing touch with the feeling of the victory. Millsap is also preparing to host Rio Vista in hopes of making them part of the splendor of Homecoming Night.
The Bulldogs’ line play late in the game last week, on both sides of the ball, figured significantly in the outcome, a fact head coach Kyle Coker will build upon itself in the coming weeks, especially as the newly-installed offense continues to gain momentum.
“Our O-line is starting to come together as a unit,” Coker said. “The slot-T offense requires a lot of repetitions to keep improving, because of the assignments and the timing of the plays.
“We are seeing these young men up front get better with each week.”
The Bulldog runners churned out 323 yards last week behind its blockers, with Dylan Burton leading the way with 156 yards. Andrew Tyson and Morgen DePriest added 82 and 78 yards, respectively.
Avoiding the air attack was preferable with the wet conditions of the field last week. Millsap will likely need to go up top against some of the defenses in the district slate who will be intent on stopping the run.
Along with the advent of the offense, the Bulldogs are also embracing its defensive scheme. The Millsap defenders made a crucial late-game stop after the Windthorst grabbed a fumble, preserving the long-awaited win.
Confidence is high as MHS boys look to begin district with a notch on the left side of the win-loss column and add to the tally.
Brock at Winters
Time: 7:30 p.m., Friday
Site: Blizzard Stadium
No. Heights at FM 1770, Winters
Type: Regular season game
Last year’s result: N/A
Winters Blizzards (1-3)
Last season: 9-4 overall, 2-1 in District 1-1A, Div. II
Class 1A, Div. II regional semifinalist
Last week: Lost to Hamlin, 54-31.
Players to watch: QB Hunter Lile (5-9, 170, 4.6), WR Jared Reagan (5-10, 175, 4.8), DE Daniel Guerrero (5-10, 195, 4.8), LB Christian DeSantiago (5-9, 202, 4.9), DB Tristan Guzman.
Brock Eagles (3-1)
Last season: 2-0 varsity record
Last week: Beat Chico, 54-0.
Players to watch: QB Seth Boleman; QB/RB Travis Gough; RBs Leddy French, Kolbin Mills; O-linemen Jake Earl, Cooper Gore, Tyler Collier; D-line Hunter Pittman, Billy Tedford, Titus Gossett.
Game notes: In the past two weeks, Eagles head coach Chad Worrell has seen his young team win in a come-from-behind thriller at a venue in Sweetwater, followed by a totally dominating performance over a previously unbeaten Chico team riding high in its first home game of the season.
The run game has been the bread-n-butter of the Brock offense, bolstered by a line that has shown resilience in varied situations. Brock throws sparingly, but effectively, with good protection from the line.
“All of our O-Linemen are first year varsity starters,” said assistant coach Casey Jones. “We are very young, but we have improved greatly since the beginning of August practice.
“We are averaging 250 yards rushing per game through our first four games.”
Coach Worrell will love to see a district schedule in the 2014 season with opponents within a modest driving distance. So too will the Brock coffers who are gassing up the bus for the Eagles road show this season. After a short jaunt to Chico last week (a comparative stroll across the street), Brock and its faithful head back out west to face the Winters Blizzards.
The Eagles take on the formidable trek to Blizzard Stadium after already journeying to Sweetwater two weeks ago, with yet another trip to the Mustang Bowl slated for Oct. 25. Regardless of the outcome of Brock’s ‘outlaw’ schedule this year, they will certainly be well-traveled for the future, just in case postseason demands be thrust upon them.
The curiously monickered Winters team made a respectable run in last season’s playoffs, advancing to the regional semifinals, but have had a rough start this season, with just one win.
Momentum is decidedly with the Eagles for the moment and they certainly hope to keep it that way for a happy trip home on Friday.