MOUNT WASHINGTON - When the Bullitt East Chargers started this football season 2-4, there was a lot of teeth gnashing and friction between a number of factions in the red and gold football community.
It wasn’t easy for first-year head coach Doug Preston. This was a team with 19 seniors and winning was expected.
Two things have long been a part of Bullitt East football in the fall — winning and the split-back veer offense. Pretty much for 22 of the past 23 years the Chargers have been a veer football program. Mike Egan installed it and ran it for all but one season. Mike Settles took over and never touched the formula.
At 2-4, Preston took an incredible step. He junked the veer and installed the wishbone. Preston had some background with the veer, but he had a better knowledge of the wishbone.
Off the field, there were whispers. On the field, the players took to it like ducks to water. On a Monday, Preston installed the new offense. On the following Friday, the Chargers beat district rival Marion County.
There was a loss at Fairdale the next week, but when the Chargers beat North Bullitt at home, the team was off to the races. Since the loss at Fairdale, Bullitt East has never looked back. Suddenly, all was right again in Mount Washington. The Chargers have won seven of eight since the Fairdale game and the only loss was a double overtime setback to Class 6-A power Manual.
Now, Bullitt East is set to make its first appearance in the state finals in 14 years after they beat Calloway County 52-49 on Friday.
Against the Lakers, Bullitt East rushed for 506 yards. Most of that came from senior running backs Zach McCarthy and Curtis Logsdon who combined for 483 of those yards as they carried the ball 59 times.
Bullitt East threw just two passes in the win and only one of those was complete, for 25 yards.
Of course, some would point a lot more to the move of McCarthy to running back from tight end than the offensive switch as being the key to the turnaround.
But there is a lot more to this offense than two strong running backs. The offensive line is opening up big holes.
That group includes Michael Bozarth at center and he is flanked by Matt Talley and Chris Walker at guard. The two tackles are Cyle Jaggers and Mason Kelly. The tight end spot has rotated between Garrett Foss, Taylor Ramirez and Adam Herth.
The three inside players are seniors while Jaggers and Kelly are juniors. The tight ends are all seniors.
(Herth moved to a running back spot on Friday after an injury sidelined Jonathan Bernard.)
“That group was tremendous,” Preston said of the line play against Calloway County. “They opened up running lanes all night. It was almost too easy.”
McCarthy wasn’t complaining about the openings.
“Those were some of the biggest holes I’ve seen all season,” the big back said after rushing for 354 yards in the win. “Even with blitzing linebackers they were picking those up. And then Herth and Logsdon got some blocks too.”
It doesn’t take much to spring McCarthy and Logsdon.
“They just tell us they need a little opening,” Kelly said after the game. “After that, they can do the rest.”
While Preston likes to call the new offense the ‘Wishbone’, there is no coach in Oklahoma, Texas or Arkansas that isn’t going to raise an eyebrow after watching a few minutes of a Bullitt East game tape. This is not Barry Switzer’s or Darrell Royal’s wishbone.
The only thing ‘wishbone’ about the Charger offense now is the alignment of the three running backs. In reality, this offense is closer to the split-back veer than it is a true wishbone.
I’ve had this discussion with Preston and he just smiles. Quarterback Matt Bowles hasn’t pitched the ball all season after reading what the defensive end does. There really is no ‘option’ in this offense.
The offense could pretty much be a power-I in that it is trying to do the same things - namely getting more blockers in front of the runner using running backs. The three running backs are lined up in the traditional ‘V’ formation, but the ball carrier is pre-determined.
For the most part, the back ball carrier on the opposite side will run to the opposite side of the formation, i.e., the right running back will go to the left, using the two other running backs as lead blockers.
There are certainly variations to keep the defenses honest. At times, the Chargers run counter plays with two backs going one way and then the one running back with the ball going the other.
The Chargers have also had some success throwing the ball in this offense. That was certainly not the case last Friday as Bowles attempted just two passes. Bullitt East was ahead most of the time and it was 20 degrees. The power running game was getting the job done. There was no need to throw the ball.
Bullitt East will most certainly throw the ball more against Bell County in this week’s Class 4-A State Championship Game.
And about that 2-4 start. Did any of the players forget about the goal of reaching the game at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium?
“I knew it was possible and I knew we had the talent,” senior Garrett Foss said after Friday’s game. “We had to learn a lot of new stuff with the new coaches. We changed the offense and we got it done and we’re going all the way.”
“It was a bad start,” said senior Remy Burton who had two sacks of Calloway County quarterback Casey Brockman. “I always knew we would get this far. Even as bad as the start was.”
For Preston, there was a darkest before the dawn look to this season.
“Nobody gave up,” the first-year coach said. “The coaches didn’t give up on the kids and the players didn’t give up on the coaches. When things started clicking this was a good team.
“They are a special group of kids,” Preston noted.