Saturday, September 5, 2009

St. Charles football team takes flight with single-wing

Hugh Bernreuter The Saginaw News, September 05, 2009 3:03 p.m.

Every football game is a "throwback" night at St. Charles.

The Bulldogs use the Single-Wing, an offense that evokes memories of leather helmets and clouds of dusts.

Mock them if you want, but it's working. The Bulldogs are 2-0 and have run circles around both New Lothrop and Merrill. St. Charles ran for 346 yards in a 36-14 win over New Lothrop, then followed with 430 in its 34-12 win Thursday over Merrill.

Three different runners - Tyler Nieman, Travis Crane and Dugan Roosa - gained more than 100 yards against Merrill, with Nieman running for 176 yards and four touchdowns. Crane ran for 155 and Roosa 109.

"It's a direct snap to a runner, we spin Travis Crane and he can hand off or keep it ... you can do a lot of things," St. Charles coach Brady Lake said. "The advantage is that instead of snapping it to a quarterback, you're snapping to someone who can run or become a blocker."

There are some shortcomings. First, the forward pass doesn't fill a large part of the playbook, making it challenging at times. Second, defenses can key on the blocking back to find the football.

"Defenses learn how to stop it, so we have to continue to evolve too," Lake said. "We add wrinkles to it. We added a play where Tyler takes it one way with everybody going the other way. By the time the defense figures it out, he's 10 yards downfield. It makes the linebackers think a little before going after the blocking back."

Nieman is a key part of the Bulldogs offense this year, just as he was last year. After two games, Nieman has 289 yards and six touchdowns on 13 carries. Nieman had similar statistics last season before getting injured in the fifth game and missing the rest of the season.

"You sometimes think that if he had been healthy, things might have been different last year," Lake said. "But the great thing is that not only is Tyler a great back, he's a heckuva blocker.

"All three of our runners complement each other. They all bring something different. Travis is the tough runner and gives us the hard yardage, while Tyler is the speed guy, the shifty runner. Dugan is the smart, methodical runner. It's a good group."

A year ago, the Bulldogs also made a nice run. St. Charles won its first seven games before ending the regular season with losses to Carrollton and Hemlock. The Bulldogs regrouped to beat Byron and Flint Beecher in the playoffs before a 35-10 playoff loss to Nouvel Catholic Central.

Too early to celebrate

Nouvel Catholic Central is 0-2 for the first time in its school's football history, which may have some area rivals drooling at the prospects of avoiding the Panthers in the playoffs. They shouldn't get too excited.

True, Nouvel hasn't looked like Nouvel is supposed to look. The Panthers are not playing Nouvel football ... yet. They have played two of the toughest teams on their schedule in Flint Powers and Traverse City St. Francis. Look for Nouvel to make a nice little run and gain momentum against the rest of the schedule, qualifying for the playoffs.

A big test awaits the Panthers at the end of the regular season. They can gauge their improvement when they take on Bay City John Glenn.

TVC West showdown

Carrollton is the defending Tri-Valley Conference West Division champion and has given every indication it is ready to defend it. A big test awaits Friday when the Cavaliers take on Ithaca. Robert Essex gained 283 yards on 29 carries Thursday, scoring four touchdowns for the Cavaliers.

Ithaca counters with quarterback Alex Niznak, who scored six touchdowns in the Yellowjackets' win over St. Louis. Niznak completed 9 of 10 passes for 174 yards and three touchdowns, while running 10 times for 139 yards and three more touchdowns.

A year ago, Carrollton made a statement with a 14-6 win over Ithaca. The winner Friday will make a similar statement as a prime target in the TVC West.

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