| || |
On the Road & Finding Ourselves; "My First Million" Part 4
October 22, 2010 - Charlie Landis
On the Road to Carlisle, Wyoming Valley West and York
The new mighty Millionaires showed up in Carlisle with a record of 1-0-1, a sophomore QB named Terry Scarborough and rain in their sails. It was the downpour that allowed me to convince myself during warm-ups that we were going to blow them out Altoona-style even with our new QB (Reality is a distant destination for a seventeen year old LB). Unfortunately our performance the week previous did not go unnoticed and had earned us something we hadn’t earned recently, respect. Forgotten in our celebrations was that other coaches read the newspapers and watched film too. Coach Neil Hickoff, head coach of the Thundering Herd, was about to show us how well he did those things.
It was raining heavily at the stadium. In warm-ups I thought that the weather and their belief in their talented guards would lead them to run, control the clock and play defense against a sophomore QB. So by the coin flip, I had convinced myself that this one was going to be a soon-to-vintage Tim Montgomery win; run the ball, stop the run, and score one more touchdown than them. So, exactly as Murphy would have predicted, we lost the toss and failed to show-up until mid-way through the 2nd quarter.
In their opening drive, the Carlisle offensive line closed their splits, the distance between linemen from foot to foot, along the line of scrimmage to the point where their feet actually touched each other. We still called our defense based on strength of their offensive set. This meant that during one of our frequent blitzes, Shelb and I found ourselves running directly into the shoulder pads of the offensive linemen. Their coach had found a way to lead us into their blocking scheme. It took only a few plays of mixed passes and delayed draws for them to march down field on the opening drive. On top of that, their QB threw the ball better than he could have handed it to the wide receivers. Smash-mouth football wasn’t part of their strategy at all.
Ever the innovator, I found a way to make it even easier for them. Once inside our ten yard line, we started to stiffen and they found themselves inside our two yard line. Coach Mayer signaled a defense that called for Shelb and I to stack behind our nose tackle and defensive tackle and then blitz to the gap on each side of their center. It is a beautiful collision of angry young men when executed to the plan, but as fate had it that night, I turned my head in time to miss the end of his signal and failed to call the blitz part of the scheme. So, their QB logged the most gingerly achieved goal line sneak in the history of Pennsylvania high school football.
Needless to say the sideline conversation with Coach Mayer was very different than the others back home. A week earlier he was reciting within a half yard how many yards Altoona had rushed; now he was holding my head covered in helmet like a toaster asking in loud tones how anyone in their right mind could have thought he didn’t want Tim and I to blitz! Normally, our sideline chats were far more informative than that one. Coach Mayer was skilled at taking the information we provided and adapting the defense accordingly. His talents probably reduced the offensive output of our opponents by one or two touchdowns a game during my time at WAHS.
They were fourteen points into us before Coach gave me the authority to audible out of blitzes. So Neil Hickoff had us in the hole by two touchdowns and a sophomore QB when the game came back to us. Queue Brian Hancock and the ever expanding Zippie.
The downside of scoring a touchdown against us was that you had to kick the ball back to us, usually to Brian Hancock. That night he turned in the big play running it back all the way for a TD making the score 14-7, Carlisle. Brian Hancock was small only in physique. He was our fiercest player, our hardest hitter play-in, play-out and our surest tackler. He was also our most irreverent teammate and clearly the most outspoken on any topic from game plan to a team mate’s performance to even the coach’s performance. I always thought that the only thing that saved Brian from being booted from the team was his respect for Coach Olsen. Otherwise, a lack of fear takes unpleasant forms in teenage boys and Brian was home to many of the most obvious.
The Zippies kicked in during the second half and we made it a ball game before losing 21-14. Our offense got their second wind as they would do for most of the season and defense stepped up, especially on the line. We drove all over them in the second half but fell short on a couple of key drives that could have made the difference. The statistics would falsely indicate that turnovers and penalties would cost us the game. But that wasn’t the case, the first eighteen minutes cost us the game. Their coach put us in the hole; putting pressure on our young QB to win the game when combined with the weather was too much to overcome. End of story.
The story for 1977 was written in Wilkes-Barre in our game against Wyoming Valley West the following week. These days I dress for work with Squawk Box of CNBC in the background. Since 1995, they have had guest after guest tell us of the investment class that periods of high volatility precede the long-term direction of the market, either up or down. If you were there that night, you saw a see-saw 2nd quarter that led to the consummate team victory 21-17. What came out of the back and forth was a group of players prepared to step-up and become one-eleventh of a twelve elevenths team. We left with a new QB, a fullback, another running back, another linebacker, and three underclassmen ready to contribute when they were in the game. We rounded out our team and put together eighteen consecutive excellent quarters where we outscored our opponents 74-40.
The game gave no early signs of its importance. Tim replaced Terry for Al Cipriani in the first quarter. Early in the second quarter we were down 0-2 thanks to a safety. We then kicked-off and the season began to turn thanks to a sequence of events that just amazed me even after viewing the film thirty-two years later, starting with a hit by Bob Brewer (’79) and an opportunistic Scott Lehotsky (’80). Brewer separated the ball from the returner and Lehotsky scooped up the fumble and rumbled the other way putting us up 7-2. They returned the following kick-off 85 yards for a TD to take the lead 9-7. Then Carl Braggs scored on a thirteen yard run just before the half to put us up at the half 14-9. Braggs finished the night with 110 yards on sixteen carries. The lead changed hands three times in the first half.
The second half was just as different but just as thrilling as the first. The third quarter saw no scoring by either team. In fact our defense played well the entire night holding them to seventy-one yards to our 230 yards rushing. In the fourth quarter, the game intensified. We fumbled and they scored to go up 17-14. Later, in a play featuring the hustle of the honorable Reverend Ronny Baity, the junior was the lone Millionaire left to make a desperate diving tackle on a ball carrier who scooped our blocked field goal attempt. On the ride home, Ronny displayed his singing talents by reprising three versus of Amazing Grace to his interpretations of his moment in the spotlight. That tackle saved us from certain defeat.
Later in the fourth quarter, 30-pop became music to Tim’s ears as Blair Soars romped for a TD of forty yards and won the game. This play, from the name to the concept, was vintage Tim Montgomery. The play was called “30-pop” and it said that the QB will hand the ball to the fullback who is commanded to remember only the snap count, avoid fumbling the exchange with the QB, locate the linear feature between the two buttocks of the center, prefer the left one, and then run as if you will never be tackled. In contrast, the modern offensive play of today is the grid-iron equivalent of a symphony filled with rich detail of geometry, timing, blocking schemes, formation shifts, motion and options. Our play was simple, Mextorf beats his man, Soars reads the block, and Montgomery expects a gain.
So we won the game 21-17. Alan Cipriani becomes the QB for 1977. We find another running back, and a fullback. Three underclassmen step up and make a difference. We added contributors to our team. Anyone Tim played felt that they could contribute. I didn’t recognize it at the time but this was a feature of a winner.
Their coaches were in the newspaper reminding the free world that they were shut down by our defense. Pennsylvania football coaches were happy to exaggerate their physiques for their pictures in game programs and the height and weight of their players, but put a microphone in their face after the game and they became George Washington with the axe and fallen cherry tree. Their coach was telling the truth about what happened that night. Throughout the game we had been shutting them down and returning to the sideline wondering why their score was tracking with ours. It was a parallel experience to the rest of the game but, in large part, the story was the emergence of Tim Shelb.
Through the Wyoming Valley West game, our defense was designed to have me align with the strength of the offensive formation, making us predictable and reducing the mystery of our schemes. From this game onward, that system was sent to the junk heap. I played left LB and Shelb played right LB for the rest of the season. Shelb justified Tim’s decision by playing the most consistently among the front seven for the rest of the season, making big plays throughout and earning the MVP in the Fez Bowl – haven’t heard of it? – a few weeks later. So by Monday, Tim added two more strong decisions to his string of good decisions, settling on a QB to replace Cam and finally settling how we were going to line-up at LB. All of them done with no fan fare in the local press or without generating any devastating acrimony among the players. This ability in a coach builds confidence in his players.
And it showed a week later against York, a game we won 25-0 to improve to 3-1-1 for the season. For us it was a revenge game from the previous year when they had travelled to Williamsport as a highly ranked team in the state and won by a very close margin. Some of the same players returned for them and they had a young talent at RB. Unfortunately, they were smaller than us, the RB was injured, the QB could not throw, the line could not block, they were not as well conditioned, it rained enough to encourage them to run and they became predictable about their play calling. It is one thing to see opponents fatigue, and quite another to watch their frustration build as their options for cracking the code disappear.
No comments posted for this article.
Post a Comment
These three guys stepped up on our first road trip. Tom Mextorf (C) opened the holes in Coach's favorite part of the field known as the middle of the line, Ronny Baity (G-LB) made a great play on a blocked field goal at WVW and Brian Hancock (CB) ran a kick-off back for a TD.