STEPPING UP — My Take: Winning with the wing in 2015

Published 2:25 pm Tuesday, September 29, 2015

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS GAME PLAN: Here is a perfect depiction of Southside’s wing-T offense, a formation the Seahawks use more than any other team in Beaufort County. And so far, they’ve had success this season running the football.

GAME PLAN: Here is a perfect depiction of Southside’s wing-T offense, a formation the Seahawks use more than any other team in Beaufort County. And so far, they’ve had success this season running the football.

It’s an offense based on misdirection and deception, one many North Carolina high school teams lean on for success. With the exception of a few passing wrinkles, it’s a formation based almost entirely on the run, each player laterally rotating in unison to one side of the field, the goal being to shield the running back until a hole opens up.

The wing-T offense gives quicker, scrappier teams that may lack the size up front the opportunity to compete against larger opponents. Running backs are aligned in different locations in the backfield, while the wingback sets up shop in the slot directly behind the tight end — a favorable formation for counters and trickery.

Different variations of the offense appear in all three of Beaufort County’s playbooks. Washington, a sizeable 2-A team, merges the wing-T with the pistol, giving the quarterback more control of the offense and the ability to extend plays if needed. Lining up in the shotgun, the Pam Pack isn’t normally afraid to pass on occasion, though quarterbacks Sharwan Staton and Tripp Barfield have attempted just 17 passes through five games.

Northside, the smallest team in the county with a history of running the football, rotates between a double-wing and a power-I. But while attempting to throw just 21 times last season, quarterback Jackson Midgette has completed 27-of-53 passes thus far. Despite the passing threat, the Panthers are still running the ball about 80 percent of the time.

Southside employs the wing-T in its purest form, rarely veering from the offense’s philosophy. Running the ball about 90 percent of the time, the passing game is limited to short routes from the tight end and a variety of looks at the split receiver position. The nature of the beast is deception, so to say Southside’s offense is predictable would be incorrect. However, with the Seahawks, an opposing defense usually knows what’s coming, but so far has been unable to shut it down, as Southside is currently averaging 370 rushing yards and 38 points per game.

That here-it-comes-now-stop-it, hit-you-in-the-mouth mentality has elevated the Seahawks to a perfect 5-0 record with just one game remaining in nonconference play. In 2015, more teams across the state continue to develop pass-heavy attacks with much success, especially in the West.

A run-based offense is enough to carry a program to a 10-, 11- or even 12-win season, but the question of whether or not it’s enough to win a state championship has arisen in recent years.

Of course, it’s impossible to forget the Southside teams of the early 2000s, under the direction of head coach Dewayne Kellum, the harbinger of the wing-T. As an assistant, a young Jeff Carrow, who is in his third year as head coach, spent years learning the system, one that carried the team to two state championship appearances.

“Coach Kellum did an awesome job,” Carrow said. “I was lucky enough to be a brand new coach being introduced to (the offense). We were able to go to a state championship and I was able to be a part of that. Just being around a winning coach, I was able to learn a lot real young.”

But the landscape of high school football has changed significantly over the last decade. Of the eight teams to win a state championship in 2014 across North Carolina’s four classifications and eight sub-divisions, seven crested 1000-plus yards through the air and four of those teams had quarterbacks throw for more than 2500 yards.

Can a team win a championship without an engrained passing attack? The answer is yes, but with a twist — certain attributes are required in order to not only negate the pass-heavy western teams, but also put up points on a consistent basis.

Wallace-Rose Hill, the only championship team (1-AA) that did not throw for more than 1000 yards, utilizes a similar wing-T system as Southside. Last year, the Bulldogs had one of the state’s deepest stable of running backs — five underclassmen who each rushed for more than 500 yards. Keyshawn Canady and Johnnie Glaspie, recorded more than 1000 yards apiece. For the system, the personnel was a perfect match.

Over the last few seasons, run-based teams that have won championships have had multiple options at running back. To be successful in this era of high school football, complimentary backfield depth is a requirement.

The other is a dependable secondary. And Wallace-Rose Hill’s was certainly formidable, reeling in 15 interceptions during the season, giving up less than two touchdowns a game.

In December, the Pam Pack defense found itself suiting up in the 2-AA title game against East Lincoln, which showcased a notoriously pass-heavy attack led by Chazz Surratt, the NCHSAA Athlete of the Year who threw for 4338 yards and completed 68 percent of his passes. Washington’s secondary held its own, limiting Surratt to his third-lowest yardage total on the season (217), but on offense, the Pack came up just one point short in a 14-13 loss.

Washington, of course, had a dynamic run threat in Markel Spencer, who finished the season with 27 touchdowns and more than 2000 yards, and Xzavier Clark served as a solid supplement, finishing with more than 900 yards rushing. But outside of that pair, Washington’s depth wasn’t close to what Wallace-Rose Hill had.

At the start of the 2015 season, Southside’s senior backfield trio of Lawrence Brown, Matt Baxter and Dylan Lewis, along with a medley of other capable running options, was an excellent foundation to build upon. But Lewis’ season came to an end on Sept. 9 against Northside, as the Seahawks’ fullback suffered a knee injury for the second-straight season.

Defensively, as it stands, Southside’s secondary has performed well above preseason expectations, but against mostly run-heavy squads. Against quarterback Jeremiah Wilson and Riverside’s spread offense, the Seahawks gave up five offensive touchdowns, two through the air.

Carrow has done well to keep his team’s internal goals hidden. He’s contained the hype and kept the focus on whatever opponent is next on the schedule.

But for fans in Chocowinity, a potential state championship is quickly becoming a topic of conversation. However, from where this team is now, there’s still a long way to go. Fine tuning the offense and developing consistent third and fourth options in the backfield should be on the top of Southside’s long list of priorities.

‘There’s no individuals on our team,” Carrow said. “The kids want to build the community up again. They want people to be excited about Southside football and they’re thrilled to be a part of it. But they also know in order for that to continue, they have to execute, get better each practice and come to play every week.”