If you watch Climax-Scotts play football, you know you might see only a handful of passes in a month, let alone a game.
For the Panthers, it all comes down to running the ball and a big reason Climax-Scotts is doing so well this year doing that is because the offense is running the ball behind an all senior offensive line.
Climax-Scotts rode that offensive line to an undefeated record and a No. 2 ranking in the state. Now the Panthers get ready to take the road and face No. 5 Ottawa Lake Whiteford in a Division 8 regional football contest at 7 p.m. Friday.
“As a group, we have been working our butt off all year on the offensive line and I think it has shown on the field,” Climax-Scotts senior lineman Alex Ridenour said. “But we don’t do it for the glory. The offensive line doesn’t usually get a lot of glory anyway. But the running backs let us know they wouldn’t be getting the job done without us, so they give us credit and that’s enough.”
That senior offensive line group is anchored by Matthew Middleton at center with T.J. Gibson and Tyler Warner at the guards, Austin Liska and Ethan Simmons at the tackles and Ridenour and Zach Scholly at the tight ends.
With that kind of experience this year, Climax-Scotts head coach Kevin Langs felt comfortable with changing up the offensive scheme a little bit and adding to the program’s longtime staple of the wing-T. Climax-Scotts now runs a hybrid wing-T that they call the crossbow. Some of the people most excited about it were the offensive linemen.
“It was an exciting change for us linemen, because we feel like we are a little more involved,” said Simmons. “A lot of the big runs come from when we have both the tackle and the guard pulling and creating big holes.”
The crossbow offense is more wide open, but still concentrates on the running game. However, as many as four players might touch the ball on any one play as the center hikes it to the quarterback, who is in a mini-shotgun formation, and he hands it off to a running back, who might hand it to another running back.
“You guys should have saw when we first started doing it, it was kind of ugly,” Climax-Scotts quarterback Dylan Butler said. “We had been running the wing-T every season growing up, but this was different. With all the different people handling the ball, the ball hit the ground a lot early, but we have it down now.
“I guess in the first game we were really trying to decide if the offense was going to work. I guess the backup plan was to go back to the old wing-T, but it worked out fine.”
The coach wasn’t so sure early, either, but now Langs knows he can go to his new offense when Climax-Scotts needs a tough yard.
“The double handoff, especially, is unique to the crossbow. Made me pretty nervous early,” Langs said. “We have done it 10,000 times in practice now, so now we can do it on fourth-and-inches and in the rain – we are that confident.”
For the fans following Climax-Scotts to Ottawa Lake Whiteford for this playoff game, they will see a version of the same offense being run on both sides of the field. When Climax-Scotts lost to Whiteford in the 2015 postseason, the Panthers came away with the idea of taking elements of the Bobcats’ offense for themselves.
Whiteford seems to have it perfected, as is shown by its perfect 11-0 record. The Bobcats have three players who have rushed for more than 700 yards on the season with Jesse Kiefer leading the way with 953. Whiteford adds a passing element to its offense as quarterback Thomas Eitniear has thrown for 868 yards as well as rushed for 713.
Climax-Scotts is also undefeated and advanced to the regionals after beating rival Mendon in the second round last week. The running game for Climax-Scotts seems to be a little more dynamic led by senior Adam Schantz, who set the school record for a regular season (not including playoff games) for rushing yards this season and currently has 1,561 and 33 touchdowns. Along with Schantz, Noah Eshuis has 1,044 yards rushing and Nathan Vickery has more than 600 yards. Climax-Scotts had set a school record through 10 games of more than 4,000 yards rushing on the season behind that experienced offensive line.
That offensive line is eager to help Climax-Scotts move on in the playoffs.
“Last year, Mendon was the big deal and after we beat them, we kind of stopped,” Ridenour said. “But this year we have shown we could beat Mendon a couple times now, so we want to keep it going and get after Ottawa Lake, since they were the team that beat us last year.”
It is the time of the year, and the type of game, these seniors have been preparing for all season.
“During the year, we play a lot of smaller teams, and coach probably wouldn’t want me to say this, but in a lot of those games, you know you are going to win,” Simmons said. “But in these playoff games, you really get up for them, because you don’t know what’s going to happen and the games are all important.”
Contact Bill Broderick (269) 966-0678 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow him on Twitter @billbroderick