The Lonesome Polecat, ECC variant: Fitch dares to be different by running the option
Fitch head coach Mike Ellis Jr. doesn’t consider himself a contrarian except for one notable exception — his team runs the option.
“The thing that got me into the option is the fact that when you take a look at what’s going on in high school football in Connecticut, no one is under center,” Ellis said. “You’ve got some of the double wing teams and that’s about it. And so now, (everyone is) so used to seeing the shotgun that we’re the team that’s different.”
When everyone else is doing one thing, you can succeed by doing something different. That approach has worked for Fitch as it's flexbone offense has been a key piece to its 5-0 start.
Branford was the latest team that the Falcons perplexed. They scored seven offensive touchdowns in Friday’s madcap 72-26 win.
“It’s good,” Fitch senior fullback-linebacker Hollis Scott said about the flexbone. “It’s a fast-paced offense. (It’s) way better than last year. We were lazy last year. … This year, everyone is committed. Everyone is not selfish.
“If they shut me down, I don’t get selfish. I still block and do my job. If they stop Hamear (Stephens), one of our other backs, he doesn’t get down. He doesn’t get selfish. He does his job.”
You younger humans may not know this, but it wasn’t that long ago (the early eighties) that teams ran the ball as much as they threw it if not more. That was especially true at the high school level.
Teams rarely used the "shotgun" formation because direct snaps had become a relic once the single wing fell out of favor. They generally had the QB line up under center. The option was also all the rage at the college level.
Southington was an anomaly prior to this millennium because it was the only high school team in Connecticut that, for multiple seasons, was both pass-happy, used the shotgun, and ran the no-huddle.
The game has (obviously) greatly changed since then. Most everyone has their quarterback take a direct snap with the forward pass being the in-thing.
Ellis, then, decided to have his team run in the other direction.
“The other thing about the option is it’s difficult enough for us to run it,” Ellis said. “So to have the (opponent’s) scout team putting it together in a week is difficult and the reason is that it’s different. We think that if we can do well with a very short prep week, that gives us an advantage going into the game.
“Watching the bowl games and watching (option teams such as) Navy, Army, and Georgia Tech, that’s kind of neat what they’re doing. … You watch them be able to compete with the big boys. My thought process was it’s (the option) also an equalizer if we could run it correctly.”
Fitch ran 44 plays for 474 yards against Branford. It ran 36 times for 316 yards (8.8 yards a carry).
Scott (7, 25 and 6 yards) and Tyler Andrews (2) both ran for touchdowns.
“The thing that’s nice this year is we’ve added the pitch (rocket toss) to it,” Ellis said. “Now you’ve added (another) option. (Opponents) have to defend all three (options). They can only take away two, but it’s tough to take three, so that’s nice. We’ve worked on that a lot and I’m glad to see it come to fruition for us.”
Tyler Nelli completed 4 of 6 passes for 158 yards and three touchdowns for the Falcons. He also ran 13 times for a team-high 166 yards.
Ellis has become specific about the offseason clinics, he looks for those with coaches who discuss the option. He’s attended clinics featuring coaches from Army, Navy and Naval Prep. He's also visited Springfield, the local hub of option football, with head coach Mike Cerasuolo and offensive coordinator Greg Webster.
“I was an option quarterback in college (Norwich University), so I ran this offense,” Ellis said. “When I transferred (from UConn) up to Norwich, Steve Hackett from the Coast Guard Academy became the head coach and he brought Coast Guard’s wishbone with him, so I ran the wishbone up there.
“So I’ve enjoyed running it, and that was the offense I liked. We’ve just evolved to that and it’s worked well for us. No one else sees it.”
• • • •
New London coach Juan Roman knows there are plenty of interesting games on the schedule remaining. All he wants is a similar effort to Friday night, where despite the 36-16 loss to Fairfield Prep, he saw signs of progress.
He mentioned several players after the game, most notably senior Jacob Commander, who hardly came off the field. Commander played offense and defense and even took a crack at quarterback on a few plays, including a 79-yard touchdown pass to Gio Lopez.
“Jacob ran really hard. He played very hard,” Roman said.
Roman also mentioned sophomore Tajuan Yard-Moore who was in on several plays defensively.
• • • •
We’ve reached the halfway mark for this, the glorious 2017 football year, thus we’re getting close to the time of the season where we dissect the CIAC playoff possibilities for the locals.
We'll begin taking an in-depth look starting next week when everyone has played six games, but we’ll do a quick overview this week. And here's a brief summary — it could be one of the quieter playoffs around these here parts in a long time.
Norwich Free Academy is the lone representative, and it is in a bad way. It’s in the bottom half of the rankings (19 out of 35 teams) with games left at East Lyme (Oct. 27), at Windsor (Nov. 16), and vs. New London (Thanksgrabbing). It's also yet to beat a winning team, which is a drag on their bonus points. A bonus is when a team receives 10 points for each victory earned by any opponent it defeated.
It’s funny — before the season, it looked as if Fitch would struggle early with games against Notre Dame of West Haven and NFA.
The Falcons are ranked third and are in great shape because it has just one game left against a winning team (at East Lyme, Nov. 10). An Oct. 27 home game against New London (1-4) could be troublesome because of the rivarly.
East Lyme (4-1) is ranked seventh and has a dicey stretch at the end of the month where it’ll play NFA, Fitch and Guilford (3-2, Nov. 16).
Two losses may be dangerous for any Class L contender based on past history. The CIAC expanded the playoff field to 32 teams in 2010, and over that time, just four of the 56 teams (7.1-percent) that qualified for Class L had three losses. That includes three last season.
New London (1-4) is way back at No. 27 in the rankings.
Class L did become much more interesting this Saturday when four-time champion New Canaan, ranked sixth in The Day Top 10 coaches' poll, lost to No. 9 Greenwich, 36-21.
It's seems nutty to think the Rams won't make the playoffs. They've made the playoffs the last 12 years and won eight state titles. Yet they're 3-2, ranked 10th in the Class, and play at Darien (the No. 1 team in the coaches poll) on Thanksgrabbing.
Put it this way — the rest of the Class L field will heave a sigh of relief if New Canaan doesn't qualify.
Thames River (3-2) is ranked 17th out of 35. Waterford (0-4) is second-to-last.
Valley Regional/Old Lyme has just one loss (4-1), but it's wa-aaaay back at No. 17 in the rankings because the division is loaded with nine unbeaten teams and seven with one loss.
The Warriors play two of the toughest teams left on their schedule the next two games and on the road — North Branford (4-1, Friday) and unbeaten Cromwell/Portland (Oct. 27). Rival Haddam-Killingworth (2-3) is the only other team among Valley/Old Lyme's other three opponents that have a win.
• • • •
Scott ran for three touchdowns in Fitch’s win and took a short pass and muscled through numerous tackles for a 36-yard touchdown.
Scott’s fifth touchdown was one of the wildest. He recovered a botched snap on a punt attempt and scored on a 38-yard return to put the Falcons ahead, 31-6, with over eight minutes left in the second quarter.
“That’s not my job to rush him,” Scott said. “I just saw the open window and was like, ‘I’ve got to go’, because I saw (the punter) fumble the snap. I ran and hit him, scooped (the ball) and scored. Everyone I heard said to tackle me and was grabbing my jersey. I was swinging them off.”
• • • •
Two Fitch players who had a huge impact on Friday’s win — Sal Aiello and Pedro Mojica.
Aiello recovered a Branford fumble on the opening kickoff to give the Falcons the ball at the latter’s 15-yard line. Scott ran for a 7-yard touchdown on their second play.
Aiello scored on a 65-yard interception return to give Fitch a 24-6 lead with over 10 minutes left in the second quarter. He intercepted a pass on a two-point conversion attempt later in the quarter.
Kazmire Pray (48 yards) also scored on an interception return.
Mojica had two strong kickoff returns to give Fitch a shorter field that led to points. He took his first kickoff 34 yards to the Falcons’ 43 late in the first quarter with Nelli ending the drive with a 30-yard field goal.
Mojica returned the second half kickoff 35 yards to the Fitch 41. Nelli threw a 41-yard touchdown to Antonyo Figueroa on the second play.
• • • •
NFA might as well be an auxiliary member of the SCC as its played three of its first five games against that league (Xavier, Cheshire and West Haven). ... New London quarterback Owen George gets his injured hand checked this week by doctors. Not only do the Whalers miss George at quarterback, but his ability to punt, too. … Roman went to a smaller, quicker defense that challenged Fairfield Prep’s ability to run the ball. It wore down a bit in the second half, thus allowing to touchdown runs by Connor Boyle. … New London plays division leaders Killingly (ECC Div. III) and Fitch (ECC Div. I) the next two weeks.
• • • •
The two weeks of crossover games between the ECC's Division I teams, SCC and SWC teams are completed with a few scattered games remaining.
Here, then, is how each league fared:
ECC: 6-6 (4-4 vs. the SCC; 2-2 vs. the SWC).
SCC: 14-13 (4-4 vs. the ECC; 10-9 vs. the SWC).
SWC: 11-12 (2-2 vs. the ECC; 9-10 vs. the SCC).
It’s never too soon to plan, so here are the games involving local teams in next season’s ECC-SCC-SWC crossover scheduling. The first game listed is Week 2 and the other Week 6 unless noted:
East Lyme: at Pomperaug; vs. Weston, at Guilford (Week 11).
Fitch: at Hamden (Week 1); vs. Harding; at Wilbur Cross.
Ledyard: at Bunnell; vs. Lyman Hall.
New London: at Notre Dame-West Haven; vs. Hillhouse.
NFA: vs. Xavier (Week 1); at Fairfield Prep; vs. Newtown.
These three ECC schools will play one crossover in Week 2:
Montville: at Lyman Hall.
Stonington: vs. Branford.
Waterford: vs. Guilford.
• • • •
That's all for now. More soon.
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