Players and coaches in the Virginia AAA Northern Region aren't sure why the past three weeks have produced 22 rushing performances of 150 or more yards, a feat that was accomplished 45 times in the entire 10-week 2003 regular season. But they've got their theories.

Westfield's Tom Verbanic, whose fifth-ranked Bulldogs have opened 4-0 thanks in large part to junior running back Evan Royster's 851 rushing yards, has an ironic explanation for the run explosion: teams are passing more often.

"A lot of people are opening up their offenses, which spreads out the defenses, which gives the running backs room to run," Verbanic said. "Everyone is trying to throw the ball more. It's trickling down from the NFL to colleges to the high schools. It's making things difficult on defenses."

Said Centreville Coach Mike Skinner: "In the past, it was your [offensive] linemen versus the other team's eight-man front. Now it's more six versus six at the line, which is really benefiting the running backs."

Royster agreed with the coaches, but added that he's noticed a spike in talent at the running back position.

"There's a lot of talented running backs in the region this year," said Royster, who has eclipsed 150 yards in each of the Bulldogs' four games. "It's always a deep position around here, but this year maybe more so than in the past."

The 22 150-yard-or-better performances over the past three weeks belong to 12 different ball carriers. Besides Royster, four running backs have gained 150 or more yards three times this season: Langley's Trevor Bacon, Robinson's Lucas Caparelli, Centreville's D.J. Thornton and West Springfield's Jason Langley. W.T. Woodson senior Matt Nickerson has 711 yards, with two 150-yard games.

"I look at the box scores every Saturday morning," Caparelli said. "It may be the offenses, but it looks to me like there a lot of talented running backs."

Whatever the reason, the region's running backs region are on pace to surpass last year's total of 150-yard games by nearly one third this fall.

Westfield's Evan Royster leads a bumper crop of Virginia running backs with 851 yards rushing in four games.