The run-and-shoot offense, the fashionable new gadget that has revived a sagging football program at Atholton High, became the stumble-and-sputter Saturday.
The Hammond Golden Bears were the party crashers. And in their one-sided, 13-0 victory at Atholton, the Bears won the old-fashioned way -- with brawn and pounds, minus any fancy innovation.
The Bears' size figured to be their trump card going into the game. Hammond is the county's biggest team. Atholton is the league's smallest. On the offensive and defensive lines alone, Hammond, with its 245-pound average, enjoyed a startling 60-pound advantage per man.
Hammond used its muscle predictably and wisely. Its offensive line manhandled Atholton to the tune of 221 rushing yards and offensive possession time of nearly 40 minutes. The Bears' defensive line overpowered the Raiders, putting constant pressure on senior quarterback Brian Van Deusen, who had his worst day of the season (9-for-26, 62 yards, two interceptions) while absorbing three sacks.
The question surrounding the game was how much the Raiders could offset their lack ofsize with their no-huddle, one-back, four-receiver offense -- an offense that, under the steady hand of Van Deusen, had produced a 3-1 record and a 26-point average.
Hammond didn't need much time to provide answers.
By halftime, the Bears (3-2 overall, 2-0 league) had taken a 7-0 lead and crippled the run-and-shoot, allowing just 16 yards.
In the third quarter, the Raiders (3-2, 1-1) crossed midfield for the only time before the Bears stopped them at the 37-yard line. Atholton would manage just five first downs and 79 yards, including 17 yards rushing, while Hammond recorded its second straight shutout.
Hammond, the quicker as well as larger opponent, ran the show witha smart game plan. The Bears rushed only four linemen for most of the afternoon, occasionally blitzing lone linebacker Jimmy Jackson to put more pressure on Van Deusen.
The Bears used six defensive backsto track Atholton's receivers in an assortment of man-to-man and zone coverages. Hammond's linemen continually boxed in Van Deusen, who could not roll out to improvise and find open receivers. And when Atholton tried running the ball, linemen like 6-foot-3, 235-pound tackle Jesse Pitts and 6-1, 220-pound tackle Bryan Hunt clogged the line of scrimmage.
"When you're up against a four-man line and one linebacker, the name of the game is to run the ball. We tried to run the ball and gained 17 yards," Atholton coach Don Van Deusen said. "We're not going to go at them with our 160-pound guards and expect to move kids 80 pounds heavier. We were just overmatched."
"We didn't run that many (defensive) stunts," said Hammond defensive back Keith Chance, who had three solo tackles and a sack and also scored a 9-yard touchdown to open the scoring. "We never let their receivers get behind us. We let them have the short stuff, and we just concentrated on blowing them off the ball."
Matt Cyran, who sat out most of the first half with a knee bruise, returned to run 47 yards for a third-quartertouchdown, then reinjured the knee, but wound up with a game-high 104 yards on 12 carries. Hammond averaged 4.7 yards a carry, often while running against eight- and nine-man Atholton fronts. The Bears ran 67 plays to the Raiders' 36.
"It seemed like we could push them (Atholton) back and do anything we wanted," Hammond coach Joe Russo said. "We were just too big. We knew we could control the ball. Right now, we think we can play with anybody."
Russo was talking a different game two weeks ago.
Hammond struggled to a 1-2 start against a tough, non-league schedule, losing by huge margins to powerhouses Pallotti (Prince George's County) and Chopticon (St. Mary's County). Russo also watched two starters, fullback/linebacker Chris Thompson (broken leg) and center Brian Triantafillos (knee) go down with season-ending injuries. The season appeared to be slipping away quickly.
But the Bears showed new life by shutting out a solid Centennial team, 7-0, in the league opener. Saturday's victory extended Hammond's shutout streak to eight quarters. And during those two games, Hammond hascommitted only two turnovers.
All is not rosy in the Hammond camp, however. Cyran, the team's best rusher, will miss at least three games and could be lost for the season.
The Bears also must overcomea tendency to waste scoring chances. Twice against Centennial, Hammond had the ball inside the Eagles' 5, only to come up pointless. Saturday, the Bears missed two chances to blow the game open.
Kelvin Stevens, who accounted for all 85 of Hammond's passing yardage, dropped a touchdown pass in the second quarter. And in the third period, the Bears drove 79 yards in 11 plays, only to stall at the Atholton 1.
Atholton, meanwhile, never had a scoring chance.
Coach Van Deusen said the Raiders will face similarly tough days against the county's other large squads. The Raiders, who have already equaled last year's victory total, have scored 105 points, seven more than last year.For this year at least, the run-and-shoot is here to stay.
"I'm pleased with the kids being 3-2. Everything we put in this year was designed to keep us from going 0-for (winless), and we've already won three games," he said. "We're not big. We're not quick. But by scoring105 points already, what we've done is create our own worst enemy. Now everybody expects us to do it all the time."