Two years ago I remember putting my total faith and support into the maps app on my smart phone. My dad and I were traveling north to watch a division six regional game that we figured to be the best match up in the state. Somewhere hidden in a neighborhood of tall beautiful homes we found a field lit by stadium lights, shimmering gold, and a buzz for elite high school football. That day we watched Monroe Saint Mary Catholic on their way to winning a state championship that year outlast Jackson Lumen Christi. Outlast is the best way to put a 26-27 that went back and forth all the way down to the last possession. In a comfortably crisp fall night I watched Jackson Lumen Christi hand the ball fifty times to their singleback Khari Willis who on his last carry of his high school career fumbled. It was one of the greatest single game performances I have watched in person. Thousands of spectators watching one guy thrive on a big stage despite everyone in attendance knowing he was going to get it. We pulled out of the parking spot we found in a lovely cul de sac close by not feeling sorry for that single back but more speculating on a great athlete’s future and where he might end up. Khari Willis now plays defensive back for the Michigan State Spartans.
Fast forward to 2016 this Friday the local Watervliet Panthers are traveling to Jackson Lumen Christi to take on the Crusaders. In my opinion it’s the only intriguing match up with an area team as most first round games are either a rematch of a regular season conference game, Constantine @ Schoolcraft or Gobles @ Lawton, or a potential blowout. Watervliet has gained a reputation with their spread offense as a team that can score a lot of points, but they didn’t really start to see the major success they garnered lately until they started playing defense. They have scored just shy of five hundred points this year, but the two blemishes they have on their record are to the only two playoff teams they played this year. Watervliet surrendered fifty one points to Schoolcraft and sixty points in a close loss to Constantine. I’m not sure if they will stop JLC this weekend and to be honest I don’t really care. I just hope the Panthers can score enough to keep pace and have the opportunity to roll the dice a few times to make the game entertaining. I heard early in the year that they were toying with the new analytics out there that suggest to never punt and always onside kick. I’m not sure if this is true, but it is a gamble like that that I’m looking forward to seeing. Watervliet plays a typical spread system that uses a checklist type play calling system to attempt to take advantage of where they think the defense will line up. The offense is set up with wristbands that have all the plays so that they are able to call the play at the line of scrimmage. They typically aren’t a fast paced team but with the wristband system they can push the pace as the choose. Calling plays in this fashion is mainly so that they can play the counting game, how many people are in the box to stop the run? Where do they have the numbers advantage? Because of the counting, game high percentage passing plays are also needed to serve as another type of running play. Watervliet is so efficient with their screens that they should be considered an outside running play. Two screens in particular the bubble screen where an outside receiver or receivers block for their teammate who follows an arc like pattern toward the sideline in an attempt to catch the ball heading downfield; and a jailbreak screen that involves an outside receiver running underneath linemen releasing downfield. There are other names for these screens this is just the way I’ve come accustomed to referring to them. My favorite high percentage play they run is called the mesh where two players close to the formation cross and it often allows a player to emerge out of the wash in an open area. Now just because the Panthers like to throw screens and short routes it does not mean they won’t take a shot down the field. The idea of the spread offense is the attack all areas of the field and they most certainly will throw a deep ball on either a one on one fade or a four verticals type play. Defensively Watervliet usually touts a 4-4 that switches between man and zone coverages. I expect a heavy run game from JLC and Watervliet’s two losses this year they didn’t have much success in stopping that sort of attack at all.
I say I’m expecting a heavy running attack from JLC but I’m just going off of what I remember, I’m having a tough time finding anything from them this year. From the snippets of film I could gather and based on their old tendencies I’m assuming they are still a single back oriented team. There are several different formations and motion combinations they might use but when it comes down to it they are a single back team. From what I have seen they are mainly a power play team in the mold of the University of Michigan. It is a pretty common offense because of the multiplicity it can display in the area of formations the team can run the same play in several different ways. From shotgun to a heavier I formation the looks change but the overall blocking scheme stays the same. So with that in mind it is no surprise that a serious back like Willis could have fifty carries in one game. This offense is designed to lean on that one dynamic running back while allowing other skill positions to act as a counter to any changes the defense may be forced to make. This year’s main guy is Bo Bell, only one of two returning starters on the Crusader offense. Bell on video looks like an average sized guy but he is fast and always seems to be falling forward. Fast enough to be a threat to break one every time he touches the ball. On defense JLC looks like they run a ton of different looks on defense. I think the base set is a 4-3 that can slide in and out of several different things which might be determined by the offensive formation they are going against or the down and distance of the given play. In the few plays I’ve found I have seen their defense go from a 4-3 to a 3-4 to even something that resembled a 4-2-5. Multiplicity in a defense like this can be tough to run if you don’t have the right personnel for it and substituting in packages can be difficult if the offense doesn’t substitute often, which is common in smaller school football. In my time experimenting with a defense like the 4-2-5 that could have several different looks, we had a difficult time finding safeties that were athletic enough to lay the pass but physical enough to play linebacker like in the box. Which meant we consistently had a person in a position they weren’t fit for based on their skill set. JLC has no problem finding athletes which is why they are able to compete against bigger schools during the season despite being smaller. Take for example 6’6, 260 lbs defensive end and tight end Jonathan Brys who will be one of the best athletes on the field this weekend. It doesn’t matter if he has his hand in the dirt or if he is standing up this guy moves great for such a big defensive end. I have seen in film a few times where the defense will set the strength to him and walk a linebacker up opposite in an under front knowing he will hold the edge. I have also seen them slip him inside to a more tackle like position just to rush the quarterback. He will be the man to watch on defense and I’m curious to see just how disruptive he will be or if will be slowed down at all by the Watervliet screen game.
It is easily an hour and a half hour drive for us to get to Jackson for this game. I have my fingers crossed we can make it there on time Friday to have a pregame meal. This will be the longest we have traveled for a game this year and I couldn’t be more excited. If you are planning on heading that way I’d love to hear from you or if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to leave a comment at the bottom.