In the very middle of Northern Michigan there is a picturesque endzone etched out of a corn field. It looks like a movie scene attempting to capture small town America. Farmland is the backdrop to bleachers full of families ready to support their local team on a well manicured but noticeably worn grass football field. It had that sort or wear that is accustom to late fall with a beautiful grey sky to match. It is an image that has lasted in my mind since I first saw it as a junior in high school. I felt at the time like it should have been a picture on a stamp, it was just so unique to me. Pewamo Westphalia, two towns, one school, miles of farmland, and a very good football team. The Pewamo Westphalia Pirates have had years of success, missing the playoffs only once since 1998 and they were division seven’s state runner up last year. They were an exceptional team way back when my old team played them way back when as well.
This year Pewamo returns a large amount of players including last years all state standout Jared Smith. Jared has set several records including the state’s rushing touchdowns record in a season last year with fifty three, total touchdowns scored, rushing yards in a season with 3250, career rushing touchdowns at 117, 32 consecutive 100 yard rushing games, and he is still running teams over this year. After watching bits and pieces of the Pirates from this year I quickly notice that these aren’t the Pirates I remember. No longer are they running a inverted bone option attack they we faced in the playoffs, but now they are predominantly a power run team out of an I open formation. Its pure midwestern football, several downblocks with a fullback to kick out and a pulling guard and quarterback to lead up into the hole. It is very similar to the old hometown days of end right and left, with the way PW linemen are able to secure a double team and move the defender to the next level defender. There are a few wrinkles thrown out there that I’ve see where they might run a sweep intended to get outside and not inside the tackle power play oriented. They also mix in an I slot a more pass oriented formation and a two back shotgun formation as well. It’s clear that both of these formations are still designed to keep their running game intact. With a guy like Jared Smith in the backfield I’m not sure why anyone would want to throw that much anyway. The best part about the power play is that it can be run out of multiple formations so long as there is someone to kick the last defender and someone there to pull up and through the hole ahead of the ball carrier. I haven’t seen a one back formation from the videos I have watched but they way they have their quarterback pull up and through the line of scrimmage it would be a simple addition. That is if they are comfortable leading their quarterback up on a linebacker in which case I wouldn’t be. I haven’t seen them pull two linemen yet on what would look like a counter to most and the likely reason for this is their inability to control the open side defensive end in their I open formation. Usually teams that pull both linemen have a tight end block down to prevent a defender from chasing the play down from behind. The quarterback could read the defensive end in a shotgun formation but I also haven’t seen that either so I’m going to assume they don’t pull both linemen. Keep in mind my access to PW game films is very limited. Running an offenses like this with the “farm kids” they have you can just feel the grit and toughness they exude in their games. It’s a rough brand of football and it’s that toughness that teams have a difficult time dealing with. They quite honestly plowed through Detroit Loyola in a blizzard last year to punch their ticket to Ford Field and it was their toughness that shown through all the snow. It is incredibly difficult to beat teams like this because of their mentality this style of play develops more than anything else. Tough minded teams just won’t quit. Defensively the Pirates normally run a variation of a stacked 4-4, but against Saugatuck’s Wing T attack they will likely add another defender or two to the box. The unique part of this game will be how the PW athletes will morph from a heavy run defense into one that can handle the spread. Saugatuck is one of the only T teams I know to move from their traditional run formation into a spread look with a shift. I have no idea what PW will do against this shift but I do know that they have a roster full of six foot, one hundred and ninety-ish pound kids that in my mind should be able to move from one things to another relatively easy, I’m just curious to see who stays in the box and who goes.
Saugatuck has been in this situation before. They have a fantastic undefeated season cruising through their schedule, blowing teams out, but in the end have no playoff points to show for it due to the abundance of poor teams they face. It is a shame that an undefeated team has to travel for a district championship, let alone having to do it in back to back seasons. This years team just numbers wise is better than last years. The Indians have scored five hundred and fourteen points this season, an average of fifty seven points per game. According to maxpreps.com, Blake Dunn has accounted for thirty eight total touchdowns which is ten more than the rushing touchdowns record holder Jared Smith has this year. If you don’t know who Blake Dunn is, we discussed him on this site week one so quickly:
This past spring “Dunn won the 100 and 300 meter hurdles in Division 4 state-record times, going 14.33 seconds and 38.31, respectively. It was the third consecutive year that has won the 300 hurdles, and he captured the 110 after placing second in the event a year ago” mlive. Dunn is an all state athlete in football, basketball, and is committed to playing baseball for Western Michigan University.
Defensively they have been fantastic as well amassing five shutouts and allowing about three points per game. Last years loss to PW came on an uncharacteristic five turnovers for Saugatuck. As I mentioned earlier the flexibility of Saugatuck’s offense being able to shift from their Wing T offense to a spread that allows Blake Dunn more space and opportunities with the ball. I think they Indians will be able to score and keep pace with PW, the fear I have for them is the size of their roster. They rock twenty players and in what might be the most physical game for them this year, the depth of their team may be tested.
I’m optimistic on Saugatuck’s chances, I must be if I’m willing to drive two hours on a Saturday to get to this game. Every year you can argue the state championship is decided well before the championship game ever takes place. Back in the days when Muskegon Catholic Central battled Mendon in a district championship, that was the game for all the marbles even though it came weeks before the actual state championship game. In division seven this year Saugatuck’s district and regional championship game for the schools involved will likely yield this year’s champion in my opinion. I have no idea where we will stop and eat, but a coffee for the road will definitely be happening. If you happen to make your way to Pewamo Westphalia Saturday for the game at 1:00 flag us down we’d love to talk football with you.
Since the main game is Saturday we get two games this week! I don’t have the time to really breakdown another game this week and my wonderful excuses are my family’s love for Halloween and I’m a Chicago Cubs fan. Friday we are going to stay close to home and head to Decatur to watch Gobles play Cassopolis. Gobles avenged a loss to Lawton in the first round by a score of 50-12 (they lost the first meeting 21-31) while Cass has only one blemish on their record.
Both teams run the wing T offense but they are also two teams that don’t mind breaking the T which is unique to that style of play. Breaking the T is a formation adjustment that allows the offense to get another blocker closer to the potential point of attack by means of a wing usually. The Gobles Tigers like to use a wing and then have him go in motion back toward his normal T spot in an angled shuffle similar to what a wing might do in an inverted bone option style play. I love the wing motion Gobles uses mainly because I haven’t seen it all that often and it is such a simple adjustment. Gobles is also going to slow things down and try to dominate time of possession which is something they have done quite a bit of this year. In college football with the pace teams like to play at nowadays time of possession is considered by some to be a dead statistic. In the smaller divisions of high school football it’s alive and well. Teams with limited numbers can use the running clock to shorten the game and run fewer plays, helping their players stay fresher throughout the course of the contest. Both teams will also go to the shotgun, but Gobles uses it almost solely in times of desperation. Cass has speed in the back field and thus is a little more willing to show different formations. They are a wing T team that is totally comfortable bouncing any sort of run be it by design or not. They are just that fast.
Defensively it’s fun to watch how wing T teams defend each other. One of the first musings on this site was about defending T teams and I think you’ll see two different styles between these two teams. I watched a highlight of the Cass Rangers from earlier this year when they were facing another wing T team and it appeared as though the Rangers ran a 6-2 with a third backer spy. The spy stays behind the linebackers and slow reads the play. On the flip side Gobles will run something similar but instead of a spy behind the linebackers they will use a short backer behind two defensive tackles that will line up hard in the A gaps. The two defensive tackles prevent the interior three linemen from getting to the short linebacker making him free to run to the fullback and beyond. The problem I can see Gobles having is Cass runs a slew of different formations and so Gobles won’t be able to stay in that defense all game. It needs to be able to move in an out based on the formation and that can be difficult, especially if Cass doesn’t formation substitute players. Formation substitutes can tip off an opposing defensive coordinator with usually enough time to make personnel changes that will fit the style of defense to the offense. So how will Gobles go from a defense facing a heavy run formation to a spread? The game was moved to Decatur due to the conditions of the Ranger’s home field. I’ve been to Cass before and calling their home field a mud pit late in the season can be an understatement. This years Cassopolis team is speed oriented as they often have been, but this year’s team seems to lack the big fullback that they were so oft to use, running teams over with short blast plays that break linebacker keys and spirits. In playing to their strengths, the speed, it’s easy to see why the Rangers would want to move the game to a neutral site. This will be the first time I have never eaten in Decatur despite its close proximity to my hometown but I have heard a lot about Final Gravity. The menu looks unique and who doesn’t like a fancy pizza? The Friday game is at seven o’clock and the weather looks like it should be a beautiful night for a championship football game.