Scoreboards are shorting out. Schools are running out of replacement light bulbs. Stat keepers and scoreboard operators are getting carpal tunnel and blurred vision trying to watch and write seemingly every two seconds while the big board changes seemingly every two minutes.
Spread offenses, quick passes, jump ball passes deep, no-huddle, pure talent and copycats have turned high school football into video games more often than not to begin the 2013 season.
It’s as if the best defense is no defense, because who needs one?
Give up a quick touchdown? No problem. Get it back in (almost) a flash.
Chandler, Basha, Mountain Pointe, Chaparral, Saguaro and Tempe had fast-paced, high-octane offenses before 2013. But McClintock is doing the same under Matt Lewis, trying to run a play every seven to 15 seconds. Horizon under Kris Heavner’s watch has become increasingly efficient in a spread-style offense. Paradise Valley has been a haven for quarterback play the past few years, and Trojans coach Donnie Yantis said he likes to run 85 plays per game in 13-17 offensive possessions per game (five years ago the Trojans ran a Wing-T offense with 8-10 possessions per game).
It’s about volume.
“It attracts the school’s best athletes because then a coach can offer the possibility of getting the ball all over the field and thus appeal to the vanity of basketball players,” Tempe Prep coach Tommy Brittain said. “The fact that 7-on-7 passing league summer games are an integral part of every program has, of course, increased the proficiency and creativity of the passing game. A wide-open offense can mitigate the fact that some teams lack size and toughness up front. The trend in college is in the direction of increasing the role of the pass and all coaches copy what they watch.”
To Brittain’s point, it’s been a craze in the NFL and major college football, and appears to have seeped into the East Valley scene on Friday nights in 2013 (if not before).
In Week 3, for example, there were 39 football games involving at least one East Valley school. In those 39 games, EV schools averaged 37.48 points per game.
Yes, that includes the baffling 78 points scored by Marcos de Niza in the Padres’ crazy (yet again) win over Marana Mountain View, and 69 points put up by Tempe. But it also includes two shutouts (Scottsdale Christian and Tempe Prep) and Desert Vista being held to three points by Anthem Boulder Creek.
“We thought we had a great defensive plan,” Marcos de Niza coach Roy Lopez said after his team’s 78-57 win. “They say that defense wins championships. I don’t know, I think times have changed, and I’m a defensive guy.”
There are outliers here, notably Corona del Sol (0-3 despite 30 points per game, aided by 46 points scored in Week 1 loss to Sierra Vista Buena). Mesquite and Mesa are both 2-1 despite averaging 16 and 14 points per game, respectively.
And yet, five of the remaining undefeated teams in the East Valley (Hamilton, Queen Creek, Williams Field, Campo Verde, San Tan Foothills and Combs) won two state titles in 2012 (Hamilton and Queen Creek) and are continuing each’s respective “modus operandi” of defense: Campo Verde has allowed 6.75 points per game (four games), Combs at seven points per game, San Tan Foothills at 7.3 allowed per contest thus far, Williams Field is at 11.3 allowed per game, Queen Creek at 12.6 and Hamilton is allowing 15 points per game.
They point to success through running the ball and playing defense, increasingly “old-school” tendencies these days.
“I was taught by (Mesquite coach and former Red Mountain coach) Jim Jones and (former Gilbert coach) Jesse Parker if you can’t run, tackle and block it is going to be a long Friday night,” San Tan Foothills coach Rodger Schenks said. “When you have a solid running game you can run an upbeat tempo, but, also control the clock and wear the other team defense down. If you look at the elite schools in every conference they have a great running game first.”
Even Cactus Shadows, once a spread-style offense setting passing records with former quarterbacks Phillip Aholt, and, most recently, Bryce Kinsler, has gone to the complete opposite end of the spectrum.
A longtime high-flying offensive-style coach long before coming to Cactus Shadows, coach Greg Davis felt he didn’t have that personnel in 2013. Worried trying to continue the spread-style offense would lead to incompletions, poor field position and a defense being on the field too long (problems in 2011 and 2012), the Falcons are now running the ball almost exclusively this season. The “grind and pound” run game is 3-0 heading into this week’s matchup against Higley.
“Know your kids and make sure you put them in the best spot for success,” Davis said. “Just because the college guys are running it does not mean you have the team to run it.”
Therein lies the juxtaposition, not only moving forward during the 2013 regular season as most East Valley schools’ schedules become increasingly difficult, but come the playoffs in November.
Will passing, video game stats and points continue at a record-setting pace and lead to postseason victories? Or will Lopez’s aforementioned tried-and-true cliche still exist?
“If you analyze that data, teams that run high tempo offenses like us and many others have to play more snaps and possessions on defense as well,” Yantis said. “So our defense is really playing 1 1/2 games in terms of possessions from where we were in the past. Obviously, the inflated numbers are a direct correlation to the amount of successful snaps per game. We are trying to match our defense to the type of offense we have, so we must be aggressive and play faster as a defense.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.