Rushing carries Joppatowne load in the long run

Football: A reliance on power has gotten the Mariners to the Class 1A state semifinals and a meeting with Dunbar.

High Schools

November 27, 2003|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

Joppatowne's Jeremy Navarre is far too young to remember Woody Hayes' "3 yards and a cloud of dust" offense at Ohio State.

But when Hayes' smash-mouth, power-running style is described to him, Navarre certainly knows what to compare it to.

"If that's what they did, yeah, we definitely do the same thing," said Navarre, a hulking 6-foot-3, 241-pound junior who plays fullback and defensive end. "We just try to ram it down teams' throats and tire teams out. We stick to what we do best."

What the Mariners, who play Dunbar on Saturday at City College in the Class 1A state semifinals, have done best - and almost exclusively this season - is run the football.

Lining up in the power-I formation with featured back Brent Cash following Navarre, back Joseph Ivory and a resurgent offensive line, Joppatowne (6-5) has gained more than 2,800 yards on the ground.

Cash, a senior and first-year starter at running back, has rushed for 1,535 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Junior quarterback Anthony Preston has taken 125 carries for 615 yards, throwing the ball just 47 times for 386 yards.

The Mariners use little misdirection and no flashy sets. The option, at times, is even considered too risky.

But running right up the middle and at the teeth of a defense, that's more like it. And the Mariners don't care if their style results in just as many yawns as it does yards.

"A lot of people say it's boring, but it's two times in three years we're in the state semifinals," said Joppatowne ninth-year coach Greg Komondor. "So we don't mind being that boring."

Three months ago, a berth in the state semifinals was unfathomable for the Mariners, who seemed to be gearing up to rebuild.

Joppatowne returned just two starters, had to replace standout tailback D'Angelo Goffigan and overhaul its offensive line with five first-year starters. A regular-season schedule that included five teams who went on to qualify for the state playoffs this fall, and John Carroll, the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association C Conference co-champion, didn't figure to help much.

Komondor acknowledged before the season that an eighth-place finish in an eight-team league wasn't out of the question, and an 0-2 start confirmed that fear.

"After we went 0-2, Greg delivered an ultimatum that took a lot of courage," said Mariners assistant head coach Bill Waibel. "He said if we don't win this coming week, the season was basically over - a wash. He's more of a gambler than I am, but the kids responded really well. That's been the turning point of our season."

The next week, the Mariners shocked Class 2A semifinalist Aberdeen on the road, dealing the Eagles their only loss, 28-21.

However, Joppatowne showed last week just how much progress it has made with a commanding 24-7 victory in the Class 1A North regional final over Havre de Grace, a team the Mariners lost to by 20 points more than a month ago.

The turnaround can be traced to a number of factors. Preston was inserted at quarterback and has made smart decisions and given the Mariners an added dimension with his speed. The offensive line has grown and the defense has become stingier.

But most importantly, the Mariners have never strayed from what they do best: run, run and run some more.

"There have been years we've had a more accomplished passing game, but we've always run the ball," said Waibel, who is carrying on a tough-running style taught to him by his late father, legendary Poly coach Augie Waibel. "This year, we just looked at our personnel and didn't think we could do so much passing so we simplified things."

Cash, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound workhorse, has been the beneficiary. He doesn't have blazing speed, but he has great vision and has no problem putting his head down and burrowing into the line of scrimmage behind fullback Navarre, a state wrestling champion.

"The way [Navarre] and the line blow people off, all I have to do is run," Cash said. "It looks a lot harder than it is."

Said senior linebacker Eric Hamburg, the Mariners' leader with 11 sacks: "It's like a rugby offense. There is this clutter and then [Cash] basically breaks out."

In a day and age of TV football highlight packages dominated by long scoring throws and trick plays, Komondor and Waibel have gotten the Mariners to buy into their approach, but it has taken some doing.

"A lot of kids come up with plays that they draw up, that I think are from that John Madden video game," Waibel said. "I tell them that some of these are really good if we had Randy Moss or Emmitt Smith."

But Komondor and Waibel don't have to do too much convincing. The Mariners have a game on Saturday and the kids know that this pretty much speaks for itself.

"We don't mind if we're flashy or not because all we're worried about is winning," Navarre said. "If we keep winning, we keep playing football and that's all everybody wants to do right now."

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