Offensive identity key to Lancers' success
When Matt Fowler first took over as Spearville High School’s head football coach in 2009, he wanted to build a winning program. He knew that the first step in building that winning program would be to find an identity.
Fowler has always believed in playing a physical but disciplined brand of football so he wanted to choose a playing style that allowed him to incorporate those ideals. What he decided on was the single wing offense.
As a high school football player in Lockwood, Missouri Fowler was coached by Chuck Lambert who is now the head football coach at Sterling College. Lambert, a Smith Center native, ran the double-tight wishbone offense. It’s an offense that Smith Center, who has won eight state championships since 1982, made famous.
Being restricted to 8-man football, Fowler had to find an offense that resembled what he ran in high school. With the help of Lelin George who served as an assistant coach at Conway Springs, a program that won seven state championships between 1998 and 2011, Fowler decided on the single wing offense.
It is an offense that was founded in the early 1900s. Fowler joked that the single wing has lost some of its popularity since World War II.
"I couldn’t really figure out how to make (the double-tight wishbone offense) work in 8-man football but the single wing is something that has a lot of the same ideas to it," Fowler said. "It hides the ball, it relies on power running and it gives you good blocking angles. Sometimes it gives you an easier path to block people because they are chasing where they think the ball is at. I just thought it would be something unique."
The keys to a successful single wing offense are the ability to carry out fakes and blockers showing discipline, along with the usuals like not turning the ball over. In 2015, the Lancers turned the ball over just one time.
With anywhere from two to three ballcarriers in the backfield, potential ballcarriers in the single wing use many different movements to try to deceive the defense into thinking one person has the ball when it is really in the hands of someone else.
"When you’re preparing for it, it’s just different than most offenses that you prepare for," Hodgeman County head coach Matt Housman said prior to the Longhorns game at Spearville. "I think (defensive) players hesitate a little bit because their reads are off, especially in 8-man. You can’t really load the box and it’s easier to get guys in space."
The Lancers are 47-30 under Fowler’s leadership. Since 2013, Spearville is 38-3 which includes their current 20-game winning streak. Even though the Lancers were just 4-23 through Fowler’s first three seasons, he did not want to abandon the single wing.
In fact, Folwer says that it made the Lancers competitive in many ball games early in his tenure. Spearville lost eight games by 10 points or less from 2009 to 2011.
"Not a lot of teams run it, so it would give us an opportunity with some lesser teams to compete with some of the big boys early because they had a hard time adjusting and adapting to what we were doing on offense," Folwer said.
While Spearville struggled at the high school level, the junior high teams were thriving under the new offense. Those junior high players were the ones who made up a majority of last season’s 13-0 team that won the school’s first state championship on the gridiron.
"Other than pee wee football, it’s all I’ve ever known through junior high and high school," senior running back Luke Heskamp said. "It has definitely worked for us. I definitely like running it, it fits us pretty well."
Part of the uniqueness of the single wing is that there is not a traditional quarterback. Sophomore Kolby Stein, who would appear to be the quarterback from the spectator’s eye, is technically considered the fullback. Last season the Lancers threw the ball 82 times in 13 games. This year, the Lancers have done even less throwing.
Spearville has thrown the ball just 39 times in their first seven games. It's an offense that is built to run the ball and when it comes to running the ball, the Lancers have used many different ballcarriers.
In 2014, the Lancers ran the ball 372 times in 11 games with five different Lancers tallying 30 or more carriers. Last season, four Lancers carried the ball at least 30 times as the team ran the ball 353 times.
"We’ve done well the last couple of years especially having multiple talented guys get their touches," Fowler said. "We really don’t ask too much of just one person. One person doesn’t have to carry the load for us."
On Friday, the Lancers (7-0) will try to keep their 20-game winning streak going when they host Leoti (5-2). With only two regular season games remaining, Spearville will begin the defense of their state championship on Nov. 1 when the playoffs begin.
"It's coming down to it," Heskamp said. "There is only so many more games left to it. Coming out every day to practice makes you more eager to get things done."
Kickoff between Spearville and Leoti is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Spearville.