West Shamokin hopes scaled-back schemes lead to more wins
By simplifying its offensive and defensive schemes, West Shamokin's football team might've found solutions to its struggles.
The Wolves, who switched to a four-lineman, four-linebacker system one day after a blowout loss to Northgate on Sept. 7, surrendered just six points in their win over Riverview last week — they last held an opponent to a single-digit total during a 20-8 win over Allegheny-Clarion Valley in 2007. And their focus on just a few bread-and-butter wing-T plays helped them accumulate 25 points, their highest mark since a 30-12 win over Northgate in 2007.
To declare West Shamokin much improved will require additional evidence. The Wolves (1-2, 1-2) hope to provide that during Friday's trip to Avonworth (2-1, 2-0) for an Eastern Conference showdown.
“We can't have too big of heads going into this game,” junior offensive guard and linebacker Austin Bussard said. “But (the win) helps.”
Physicality on both sides of the ball has been a point of emphasis for the past several seasons. The Wolves grew more aggressive, but their points-allowed-per-game average remained disappointing — they gave up at least 40 points per contest each of the last three seasons and also did so in the first two weeks this fall.
Last week, the Wolves finally imposed their will for four quarters.
“I guess you could say we went real vanilla on defense,” said coach Josh Gilliland, whose Wolves previously operated in a 3-4 system. “It doesn't force them to know as much, football-wise. They can just go out and be aggressive.”
West Shamokin held Riverview scoreless for three quarters. Tim Wagner finally ended the shutout with a 30-yard touchdown catch.
“It felt good to just physically pound them,” said sophomore Andrew Wingard, who recovered a fumble and as a wingback finished with a team-high 142 yards rushing.
Wolves junior defensive back Brady Cornman delivered arguably the biggest hit of the game when he forced Jason Anthony to fumble during a fake punt. Cornman also stepped in for injured sophomore Alex Lasslo at quarterback, gained 65 yards on the ground and scored once.
“I don't know what got into me,” Cornman said. “I was exceptionally fired up. … I wasn't going to make it easy on anybody.”
The rushing success of Wingard, Cornman and junior Matt Johns (eight carries, 48 yards, two touchdowns) also represented a breakthrough for West Shamokin, which had relied heavily on standout sophomore fullback Zac Horner in the past. Horner, averaging 106.5 yards through Week 2, finished with 12 carries for 35 yards, yet the Wolves had the most rushing yards (290) in Gilliland's three-plus seasons as coach.
“I'm anxious to see what Avonworth will do now that they see that we have these threats,” Gilliland said. “I think it'll create problems for other teams.”
Avonworth presents West Shamokin more of a challenge than Riverview.
Offensively, the Antelopes leaned on sizable junior running backs Andrew Broadus (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) and Anthony Tomasino (6-0, 185) through two weeks but recently turned to freshman quarterback Zach Chandler, who completed 9 of 14 passes for 115 yards and three touchdowns in a Week 3 win over Leechburg.
The Antelopes' defense, meanwhile, has allowed just 9.7 points per game.
“It'll be a dogfight,” Gilliland said. “Even if we give up a touchdown or a big play, I think the kids understand now, it's OK. You can move on.”
Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-543-1303, Ext. 1321.