Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Football: Oscar Smith's opponent in final is coming on strong

The Osbourn High School football team, less than two years removed from an undefeated jaunt to a state championship, was foundering early this season.

The Eagles were erratic on offense — and losing.

“We started out playing some inconsistent ball,” said coach Steve Schultze, whose team began 2-3.

Seeking a quick-fix at midseason, Schultze added a quirky single-wing offense, and Osbourn started to go places.

The Eagles rattled off 112 points in their final three regular-season games — all Osbourn victories — and squeaked into the Northwest Region playoffs as the fourth and final seed.

In a shocking postseason run, Osbourn avenged two regular-season losses and last week trounced unbeaten Central Region champ Varina 47-28 to reach the Group AAA Division 6 state championship game.

The Eagles (9-4) play Oscar Smith (14-0) at 4 p.m. Saturday for the state title, hoping to cap an improbable streak with a fourth consecutive victory over an unbeaten team.

Schultze guided Osbourn to its first state crown in 2006 but followed that with a 4-6 campaign last season. Early this season, the Eagles lost 31-3 to Woodbridge.

“Our kids and coaching staff never gave up on each other,” Schultze said. “We just started to figure out our personnel and the schemes we needed to use to be us.”

Schultze arrived to coach his alma mater, located in Manassas, before the 2002 season. He inherited a down-trodden program that had lost 32 consecutive games and was coming off its 10th straight losing season.

After going 9-21 in Schultze’s first three seasons, the Eagles finished 10-2 in 2005 and the following year won the program’s first Northwest Region and state championships.

Early struggles on offense this season, though, spurred Schultze to make some changes. He installed the single-wing — an offense that keeps defenses guessing with misdirection and snaps to the quarterback or running backs — to rely more on versatile senior Jerell McFadden. A 5-foot-10, 175-pounder, McFadden has accounted for more than 1,700 total yards, including 1,275 rushing.

“We became a much more physical team on that side of the ball,” Schultze said of the change to the single-wing. “That physical play really helped us shore things up and play good football and execute.”

But Schultze didn’t scrap the team’s spread offense. The Eagles bounce from one offense to another and use different blockers for each one.

Quarterback Thomas Keith, a junior, has thrown for 1,275 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The constant switching has kept defenses confused and has created some intra-squad competition.

“Our spread guys, they want to stay in the spread, and the big guys want to ram the ball pretty good at you,”

Schultze said. “They’re all fighting for execution and staying in the game.”

Now, the Eagles meet an Oscar Smith team that is ranked nationally in several polls. Schultze has played up his team’s underdog role for months, and he’s not about to stop now.

“We may not look that snazzy on film,” Schultze said. “But if we play good football, we’re capable of beating anybody. For us to beat Oscar Smith, we have to play great football. Everything’s got to go right, and we’re capable of that.”

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