South Pointe’s defense will be tested to the limit Saturday when the Stallions square up to Hartsville in the 3A state championship game down in Columbia.
Hartsville runs the University of Delaware’s version of the wing-t, developed by coaches David Nelson and Tubby Raymond and helped the Blue Hens win FCS and Division II national titles four times before the system was abandoned by a new coaching staff in the early 2000s.
The Red Foxes have rushed for 5,270 yards in 14 games, and average a demoralizing 8.3 yards per carry. Senior Aryon Dudley leads the way with 1,464 yards rushing, while 5-foot-6 junior Shy McPhail has run for 1,385 and fellow junior Brian Rivers, back from a month on the sidelines because of injury, is at 959. The three have combined for 57 rushing touchdowns, McPhail leading with 23. And despite running the ball 638 times - 264 more attempts than its opponents - the Hartsville machine has fumbled only nine times.
South Pointe coach Strait Herron said that Hartsville isn’t like Broome or Clover, well-known wing-based offenses.
“It’s really tough to defend,” said Herron. “The hardest thing about it is we’ve got to find some guys that can practice it, that can show our defense that look.”
Many of Hartsville’s wing-t plays run toward the sideline before the back cuts the ball up-field. If a play is run up the gut, it’s generally a dive play with the fullback or tailback. Those plays set up the less common weaponry in Hartsville’s offensive game-plan.
Dudley, who scored the winning touchdown in overtime against Marlboro County last Friday on one such stretch play to the left, is especially lethal when running up the middle.
Without knowing the exact nomenclature that Hartsville coach Jeff Calabrese and his staff use, the play dissected in this offensive analysis is commonly referred to as a counter, a gleaming example of the effective misdirection that makes the wing-t so hair-pulling for opposing defensive coordinators.
Dudley and the Red Foxes put on a perfect display of the counter during their 62-12 beating of Lamar back in August.
The first sign for the defense to think, “wait a minute,” was tight end Ryan Morris and left tackle Elijah Greenwalt immediately pulling to the middle when the ball was snapped, against the flow of at least seven other offensive players on the field.
Dudley, lined up as the left wing-back, took a pitch from quarterback Matt Lynch, followed Morris and Greenwalt into the middle of the line of scrimmage and cut up-field behind his fearless lead blocking duo.
Greenwalt almost immediately kicked out to the right and ensured Dudley would not be hit from the weak side of the line.
Morris continued into the hole, but there was no one for him to block. Because of over-pursuit by the Lamar defense, three rushing defenders ran too far up-field and took themselves out of the play, leaving four oncoming Hartsville offensive linemen to block two defensive players. That was an easy win for the Red Foxes offensive line.
The road to the end zone was so well paved that Morris, the pulling tight end, didn’t lay hands on an opponent until 22 yards down-field. By that point, Dudley’s 4.46 speed took over and he only needed to make one cut to finish off the 37-yard scoring sprint. He later added a 46-yard touchdown jaunt on the same play, cutting to the outside on that occasion before racing away to the end zone.
When Hartsville’s offense starts churning up yards with its basics, then unleashes a misdirection play like the counter, it can be a beautiful thing to see. Unless you’re an opposing coach.
“Watching them on video hasn’t been fun,” Herron said Monday.