A throwback, but Eagles' offense flying with single wing

ON HIGH SCHOOLS

September 29, 2006|By MILTON KENT

The trek on Route 29 from Ellicott City to Wilde Lake in Columbia isn't a long one on the car's odometer, but for the Centennial football team, the journey must have felt like a pre-Panama Canal sea voyage from Baltimore around South America to San Francisco.

That's because the result of all those trips -- as well as when Wilde Lake came to Centennial -- was the same, namely an Eagles loss.

And no matter how pretty the scenery, a trip to the same spot that always ends the same way can feel monotonous.

But Centennial's trip home last Friday evening must have felt shorter, if not flat-out delirious as they ended a 32-game losing streak to the Wildecats with a 17-0 win in Columbia.

"This is very big," Centennial senior running back Justin Harris said. "I can't remember the last time we beat them or even if we have beaten them. We figured if we came out here and played well ... this would determine our season. We think we can go far now."

If Centennial (2-1) is to go toward its first winning season in five years and a state playoff berth, it will almost certainly be on the ground via an offense that actually predates the Panama Canal.

The Eagles, who go to Mount Hebron tonight, are in the third season of running the single wing offense, an attack invented by famed coach Glenn "Pop" Warner in 1906, which in teenager parlance might as well be when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth.

"No one had ever seen anything like this, but last year we started to put in some passing formations and some new formations, and it's actually turned out well. As you can see, it worked [against Wilde Lake]. We all love it," said senior Alex Bechta, who is a running back and defensive back at Centennial.

In a single wing, the quarterback stands in the offensive backfield, a la the shotgun, but is much more likely to run than to pass. Indeed, the snap often goes to a running back rather than the quarterback and there is more than a little misdirection and "trickeration," as the Sunday morning television football pundits call it.

Centennial coach Jamie Wagner immediately installed the single wing when he took over as head coach for Ed Holshue. The Eagles understandably took their lumps for two years as they learned the intricacies of the offense, which relies a bit more on timing and precision than most offenses.

But, as their wins over Wilde Lake and No. 4 Long Reach demonstrate, the Eagles seem to have the hang of it, though they staked themselves to a 14-0 lead last week with early touchdown passes of 57 and 43 yards, both from quarterback Owen Dresser to Harris.

"We're very fortunate," Wagner said. "Centennial student-athletes are very disciplined, very structured, and they're very coachable. We like running this offense, because it has deception involved and they're very disciplined. It works for us."

Wagner said only a handful of schools in the Mid-Atlantic region run the single wing, including, oddly enough, Long Reach. There is a National Single Wing Coaches Association that offers symposia on the offense and also has a Web site.

"It's a real tight fraternity," Wagner said. "We stay in touch with single wing coaches all throughout the country, just to be updated on things and to share ideas."

The Centennial players are so thrilled to run the offense that they wear T-shirts that read "1906-2006. Single Wing football. The Centennial year."

"At first I thought it was pretty weird, because it's not a traditional offense, and it took us a while to get used to it," Harris said. "That first year, everybody was just trying to learn the fundamentals of it. But, in our third year, we have to expand on it and we can put a lot more formations in it and work it well. I like it now."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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