The key to the Broadneck and Old Mill football offenses is the run. Spectators saw as much Friday night when Old Mill beat Broadneck, 25-20, snapping a seven-game losing streak that spanned five years.
Old Mill ran the ball 35 times and passed just six times; Broadneck ran 43 times and passed nine times. Why the emphasis on the run?
There are a number of reasons, but the consensus from some area coaches is personnel.
"If you had [Patriots senior running back Ryan Callahan], what would you do?" Old Mill Coach Mike Marcus asked rhetorically.
Severna Park Coach J.P Hines, whose team will face Old Mill on Oct. 14, agreed.
"If you have a Callahan in your backfield and a quarterback who runs as fast he does," said Hines, "you can bet your sweet dollar I'm going to run the football."
Other county teams also have been keeping the ball on the ground this season. Southern traditionally is a run-oriented team, although it does make adjustments for the right players, said Coach Russ Meyers, in his 11th year. One season, he recalled, his team threw for just 159 yards in 10 games. This season, the Bulldogs have about that total through four games.
"We just had in the past the kind of guys where we could run the option and just spend our time developing that part of the game and the auxiliary passes that come with that," Meyers said. "It's just whatever your philosophy is as a coach."
Coaches know Arundel as a team that likes to throw the ball; that has been the signature of Coach Chuck Markiewicz since his days coaching at North County, where he won the 1994 state championship, the last time an Anne Arundel County team achieved that feat. His quarterback this season, senior Kyle Sumpter, threw for 117 yards and three touchdown passes in Friday's win over Southern.
But even in Arundel's usually pass-oriented offense, adjustments have been made. Earlier this season Sumpter's legs were more dangerous than his arm, and Arundel ran 94 times and threw 71 passes in the first three games. Sumpter accounted for 32 of those 94 carries, mostly on quarterback draws and options from the no-huddle, spread offense the Wildcats run every game.
Chesapeake Coach Jim Simms changed his offense this off-season to a spread formation, hoping to implement more passing in his game plan to make use of a quarterback and set of receivers he thought would fit the system. Three games into the season, however, Simms changed back to the single-wing offense that Chesapeake has played for at least seven years.
"When you pass, three things can happen and two of them [interceptions and incompletions] are bad," Simms said. "I'd rather drive the ball. If you can put together an eight, nine-play drive it drains the clock, keeps your defense off the field and keeps their offense off the field. . . . It seems like our school is kind of set in that running mode. I think we have good backs who can run."
Those backs ran well on Friday, tallying 318 yards on the ground as Chesapeake won its first game of the season, 29-22, over Glen Burnie. The difference in the game? A touchdown run by running back Dominick Reid.
Things can also change for a team based on what the defense offers. Annapolis changed its mantra Friday, but Coach Brian Brown says the team is still a run-oriented offense. Brown went to the pass in a 39-6 win over Meade, moving away from talented running back Damien Kinchen and putting the ball in the hands of quarterback Matt Vollono. Vollono came through, throwing three touchdown passes.
"They were stacking the line pretty hard so we had to throw the ball," Brown said. A number of variables go into the decision to run or pass, Brown said, including coaching philosophy, the opponent's defense, and talent level at quarterback and receiver.
Training talent to the level where the ball can be thrown consistently is not always achievable, especially in public schools where coaches are not allowed to recruit or work with players in the offseason. The alternatives are football camps where players can learn and train on their own, but that only comes through a willingness on the part of players, who may have jobs, family demands or other sports that reduce off-season commitment to football.
Said Simms: "It's desire. There are some real good camps out there, it's just a matter if people want to go."