The young Rockies have developed a taste for success.
Three straight wins have only made Plymouth (3-1, 2-0 NLC) hungrier for more as it hits the road for Elkhart Memorial (2-2, 1-2 NLC) Friday.
“I’ve said this from day one: I like our kids, I like this team,” said Plymouth Head Football Coach John Barron. “I think that these guys are starting to get a little hungry now with the success that we’ve had. I’d be surprised if we didn’t play well. I think our guys believe in each other, and they’re starting to believe that they’re a championship football team. We’re going to have bumps in the road. We’re going to have teams that score on us; we’re going to have teams that stop us when we have the football. We’re going to have to have guys make plays, but I think that we have guys in place to do that.”
A large part of the Rockies’ recent success has been due to its running game.
Plymouth has racked up more than 1,200 rushing yards in its last three wins and has developed an increasing amount of weapons on the ground, led by junior fullback Sam Stevens.
Stevens gained 165 rushing yards last week to move to 637 on the year, but he’s one of several legitimate threats in the Rockies’ triple option backfield, as running back Chase Peters tallied 83 yards, and quarterback Ike Kastner gained 61 in the win over Northridge.
“For us to be successful, we like to run the football,” said Barron. “We feel like we can throw it, but going in it’s not our first option. We want to run the ball; the last several years we’ve had success just being a very good, sound running team. I think running the football makes you a good football program. It gets a lot of kids involved, and I think it’s kind of what our kids are like in this community. They’re tough kids, and they’re kids that like to work hard, and it’s just kind of a reflection of what we do.”
One byword in this week’s Northern Lakes Conference challenge is formations.
The Chargers are likely to throw some different fronts at Plymouth on defense, and their offense may necessitate some different looks from the Rockies defensive unit as well.
“It’s another one of those teams that kind of gets you out of your comfort zone defensively and makes you play the entire field. We’re going to have to be very assignment-conscious; we’re going to have to be very formation-conscious with what our adjustments are in getting out of the comfort zone of our four-man front,” said Barron. “Defensively it’s going to be a challenge for us just because we had to tweak our base defense, and we’re going to have to go in there with maybe a little different scheme to keep them in front of us.”
“Offensively, they present a problem because I’m not sure exactly what kind of a front they’re going to play us in,” he said. “I think they’re a base 4-3 team, but they’re a team that’ll play some odd fronts or at least they’re going to cover our center, and they have good size and skills at positions that I would assume would be good defensively against what we’re trying to do.”
John Glenn (3-1, 2-1 NSC) will also be facing an unfamiliar look when it travels to Triton (0-4, 0-2 NSC) for a Northern State Conference match-up Friday.
After facing more run-oriented offenses the past four weeks, the Falcons will face a pass-heavy scheme from the Trojans in Week 5.
“I thought they did some good things last week against Bremen in their quick passing game, so I think the first thing for us is we need to be aggressive, we need to get a pass rush, and we need to rally to the ball,” said Glenn head coach Justin Bogunia. “If they’re going to throw a short pass, we need to have our whole defense flying to the ball and not just have that one guy if he misses we’re in trouble. We have to have insurance on that and have everybody there so there isn’t that much pressure on that one guy to make a tackle.”
But while it may be a slightly new look, it’s one Bogunia said his players are excited to face.
“We’re kind of excited,” he said. “I think it’s refreshing for our kids because it is something different and whenever you get something different out of your routine you can look at it one of two ways: You can either be scared of it or you can be excited about the challenge. I think our guys are excited about something new and something different to play against. I think it’s going to be a good ball game.”
Triton is still looking for its first win, but the young Trojans have shown moments of promise.
Last week at Bremen, they held the prolific Lions offense to just two scores at halftime, and they moved the ball efficiently themselves at times, although six turnovers kept the visitors off the scoreboard in the eventual 41-0 loss.
“Our focus since day one has just been to get better every week, and we felt like even though it didn’t show on the scoreboard we made some progress last week,” said Triton head coach Rodney Younis. “That’s our focus again this week, to continue to make progress. When you have a young team, you’re going to take your lumps, which is what we’re doing right now, but our young kids, we need to continue to work with them and get better with their fundamentals and learn from the mistakes that we make each week and try to correct those.
“The bottom line is we’ve just got to finish things. We’re doing things right, we move forward, and then all of a sudden we get to a point where we have a lapse, whether it’s a fumble or a dropped pass or a missed assignment or somebody runs the wrong route and our quarterback throws it where he’s expecting it to be.”
And of course, any discussion of stopping John Glenn on the defensive end revolves around slowing down dynamic three-way player Josh Anderson, who showcased his versatility in a win over LaVille last week with four big play touchdowns — two rushing, one pass and one kickoff return.
“We know Josh Anderson is going to be their focal point,” said Younis. “They have several guys they can go to, but he’s their main man, and we’re going to have to try to slow him down. You’re not going to be able to stop him completely, but a key is for us to be able to make them earn their scores.”
The big strike is also a concern for Andy Thomas and his Culver Community Cavaliers (3-1, 2-0 NSC) as they take on the mighty Bremen Lions (4-0, 2-0 NSC) in a match-up of NSC unbeatens at home.
“We can’t give up big plays. They are tremendous on offense,” said Thomas. “They fly around on defense, but the biggest thing is they have the ability to score from anywhere on the field. Their quarterback is tremendous, they have a running back and a couple receivers that are tremendous. It’s going to be a big challenge for us, and the only way we’re going to have a chance to be successful is we’re going to have to contain the big plays.”
One problem Bremen’s offense presents to any team is its versatility. Quarterback Nate Leeper has a deep receiving corps to throw to, and Braxston Miller and Eric Knepper are both threats in the backfield.
“It’s tough, you can’t load up to stop the runs because you’re leaving things open with the pass,” said Thomas. “If you play max coverage then they’re going to try to run it. You’ve got to stay balanced and pick your spots on defense, but the biggest thing is we’ve just got to be fundamentally sound and keep the ball in front of us.”
“We’ve got a couple kids in the backfield that can run it in Braxston Miller and Eric Knepper, and their back-ups — we haven’t had to play them this year but they’re pretty good also — in fullback Tyler Johnston and tailback Reid Zellmer,” said Bremen head coach Bob Holmes. “Then our receiving corps, we’re throwing to about six or seven different guys, so you really can’t key in on one player, and that versatility has really helped us.”
While Bremen may be the favorite with an undefeated 4-0 mark and a lopsided cumulative 165-41 points margin against opponents this year, Holmes and the Lions are definitely not taking anything lightly as they hit the road to take on the physical Cavs on their home turf.
“This is going to be a great test for us,” said the Bremen skipper. “Andy Thomas does a great job down in Culver, and he’s going to have the Cavs ready to play football against the Lions on Friday night. I’m expecting a very tough game, and I think the team that makes the least amount of mistakes is going to be the winner.”
In other NSC action this week, LaVille (0-4, 0-2) continues searching for its first win under first-year head coach Mark Reddy at home against the Knox Redskins (1-3, 0-2 NSC), who are looking to grab their first conference win.
Culver Military Academy (2-2) looks to rebound at home after a tough loss at Class A No. 1 Lafayette Jefferson last week against another 2-2 squad in Brebeuf Jesuit.