After five minutes of watching the St. Vincent Pallotti football team practice it was evident why the Panthers completed a perfect 10-0 record last weekend.
Coach Stu Mackintosh directed the Panthers' offense through its entire playbook, and there was no "three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust" monotony to be found. The Panthers ran one of the most sophisticated passing offenses in the area. Receivers go in motion and double back. Running backs slide out of the backfield for swing passes. Halfbacks run wide, then throw option passes.
Triggering all this was 6 feet 2, 180-pound senior quarterback Mark Ray. He dropped back, he rolled out, he sneaked up the middle, he bootleged. He often operated out of the shotgun formation.
On the last play of practice, he demonstrated his physical ability in stunning fashion. Rolling out to his left, he checked off a closely-covered tight end and unleashed a perfect 45-yard spiral against his momentum to a wide-open receiver along the opposite sideline.
"Good pass," Mackintosh murmured as the Panthers came cheering off their dimly lighted practice field behind the Laurel school.
Mackintosh revamped the team's entire offense when he took over for Pat Renehan this season. Renehan's offenses operated like most local high school teams, keeping most of their plays on the ground.
"Running an offense like this is fun," said Ray. "Defenses don't know how to react a lot of times and I usually have several people to throw to, so I don't usually have to panic. The coaches have been great."
Pallotti wasn't short on coaches. There were only 27 players on the team, but the Panthers were blessed with nine coaches, all volunteers. One is Bob Windsor, a former pro tight end now a local businessman.
The Panthers' offense was seldom challenged this season. It rolled up 304 points and averaged 383 yards per game. Ray completed 57 percent of his passes for 2,508 yards and 29 touchdowns. His favorite target was wingback Brian MacLean, who caught 61 passes for 1,211 yards and 19 touchdowns. In last week's season-ending 26-24 Tri-State Conference victory over Model, MacLean had 11 receptions for 157 yards and two touchdowns.
Mike Lynch finished with 32 catches for 589 yards and five touchdowns. David Brewer caught 26 passes for 322 yards and four touchdowns.
"The offense was designed to spread the passes around," MacLean said. "If I'm covered, Mark has a couple of other people he can throw to. He does that very well."
Yet the Panthers were far from one-dimensional. Even though about two-thirds of their yardage was from passing, they forged a solid rushing attack led by fullback Jeff Gottshall (172 carries for 1,012 yards).
Few teams are able to post unbeaten records strictly with their offense, and Pallotti is no exception. The Panthers allowed only 105 points and an average of 112 yards per game this year.
"We read plays better than a lot of defenses," said Brewer. "We hit hard and close up the holes quickly. We had a good offense, but we still can't afford to play loose. We can't match points with people. That's not our goal."
The team's goals at the start of the year, Mackintosh said, were to go undefeated and win the Tri-State Conference. Both have been accomplished.