High school football appears to be transitioning to a passing game, following in the footsteps of the college and professional games.
Despite the proliferation of high-octane, pass-happy offenses, there is apparently still a need for a solid running game. In San Mateo County, there are no fewer than six running backs who have rushed for 1,000 yards or more: Justin Ewing (Capuchino, 2,749 yards), Eric Redwood (Serra, 1,416), Tanner Piccolotti (Terra Nova, 1,162), Mike Taylor (Sequoia, 1,010), Kevin Cunha (South City, 1,009) and Anthony Shkuratov (South City, over 1,000).
In all, the county boasts nearly a dozen players who have rushed for 700 yards or more.
All of their teams are in the Central Coast Section playoffs.
For the most part, coaches utilize their players in a way to best take advantage of their strengths.
"That's how we looked at it when we went up against Menlo,” said South City coach Frank Moro, who used a punishing ground attack to beat the Knights 43-39, taking the lead on its last drive of the game.
"That last (scoring drive) was pretty much all on the ground.”
Other coaches are learning that spreading out the offense does not necessarily mean abandoning the running game. Terra Nova's Bill Gray and Sequoia's Rob Poulos both utilize a spread offensive formation. Gray and his Tigers throw the ball a bit more, while Poulos still sees his offense as being a run-first unit.
"We typically have a 3-to-1, run-to-pass ratio,” Poulos said.
In the spread offense, the quarterback has to have the ability to read both run and pass. He is typically the best athlete on the offense and it's no surprise both Sequoia's Taylor and Terra Nova's K'ren Spain are among the best dual-threat signal callers. Spain finished the regular season with over 2,000 yards passing and finished just shy of 1,000 yards rushing. Taylor rushed for over 1,000 yards and passed for more than 800.
"There are run spread teams and pass spread teams. We feel having a spread offense gives us a better chance to run,” Poulos said. "That's why I like the spread. If [the quarterback] is a pass-first guy, there are a lot of pass options. If he's a run-first guy, there are a lot of run options.”
One team that will never be confused with a spread attack is Capuchino. The Mustangs are a throwback, running out of the I-formation and giving the opposition heavy, heavy doses of Justin Ewing, whose 2,749 yards is third in the state, according to MaxPreps.com. Capuchino coach Adam Hyndman identified what he had designed his offense around it.
"It's all about personnel. What I wouldn't do is stick with an offense if I didn't have the personnel,” Hyndman said. "I think you want to control the clock (with a solid running game). You want the ball in (your) offense's hands as long as possible. You don't want to give (the other team) the ball.”
Most coaches agree: use an offense that best suits a team's personnel. At Menlo School, that means using the run-and-shoot and depending on your quarterback to distribute the ball to a bevy of receivers. For South City, it means using the abilities of Shkuratov and Cunha. Moro said he wanted to throw the ball a bit more this season, considering receivers Robert Johnson and Jerrick Anicete have good hands and are good receivers.
It's hard, however, to find all the parts necessary to have a successful passing game: a capable quarterback, an offensive line that can pass block and quality receivers. Shkuratov started the season as the Warriors' starting quarterback, but it became obvious he was still a running back playing closer to the line of scrimmage. Heading into Peninsula Athletic League play, Maligi Maluia took over the quarterbacking duties and moved Shkuratov back to his familiar spot as a running back.
"We thought we might be able to (throw the ball a little more). But [Johnson] got banged up a little big and [Anicete] was coming back off a broken leg,” Moro said. "It's nice to have two (quality) backs. That's our bread and butter. It's what we're doing: running power. That's what we're going to do.”
Hyndman believes it's just easier to implement a ground attack. Having one of the best running backs in the state in Ewing helps, but he also credits the offensive line for gelling as the season has gone along. Hyndman said he doesn't try to get too fancy because, as he said, "the last thing I want my o-line doing, pre-snap, is thinking.”
"In regards to our team and like every other successful team, like (those in) the WCAL or De La Salle, they don't have many plays in their arsenal. We limit the number of plays we run and learn to run those very well.”