ROCK FALLS – When Kevin Parker arrived at Rock Falls in the summer of 2019, he brought with him an offense the Rockets hadn’t been using much of: the running game.
Before Parker, Steve Disler had mostly continued the tradition of passing the ball in his one year at the helm, a tradition which had taken root under his predecessors.
There is perhaps no better example of the run-first philosophy starting to take hold than Rock Falls’ 50-0 win over Rockford Christian in Week 1. In that game, the Rockets ran 42 plays from scrimmage, with 33 of them rushing attempts.
“We have to do that again in order to win,” running back Aidan Kobbeman said. “Everybody’s got to do their job. Lineman have to block, our backs have to pick up some yards.”
They are still running, but things look different. The changes started to be implemented in the spring, augmenting the wishbone sets with a more wide-open look.
“We still have that [wishbone] in our arsenal, but then added the Texas formation, which is our spread formation,” Rock Falls offensive coordinator Anthony Adamson said. “Them being able to see it on tape, how it’s supposed to look, I think does help with the confidence.”
The epitome of that offense was in Rock Falls’ first drive of the second half. After the kickoff went into the end zone, the Rockets opened up on their own 20, Booker Cross was thrown for a loss on first down, but made that up and more with an option play to the right on second down, getting out to the 25. On third down, a sweep to the left got Cross first-down yardage and a lot more, getting the ball to the Rock Falls 42.
Kaleb Bull took over with a pair of punishing runs up the middle to get into Royal Lions’ territory and get another first down, before another option for Cross moved the ball to the Rockford Christian 21. Runs by Braxton Law and Kohle Bradley got the ball to the 7. Then Cross lined up in a wildcat formation, taking a snap and racing to the right into the end zone, though that was blown dead for a penalty. After a pair of offsides calls against Rockford Christian put the ball back at the Royal Lions’ 1, Cross again lined up in wildcat and raced to his left into the end zone for a score.
In was an 11-play, 80-yard drive during which only one pass was attempted, which fell incomplete. But instead of straight-ahead power with a tight formation and backs trying to gain ground between the tackles, the Rockets ran a pair of option plays, lined up twice with Cross in a wildcat formation behind the center, and sent half of the running plays to the outside.
It’s a spread look, but not to throw the ball around like other spread offenses.
“The fundamentals of offense in a spread offense is running sideline to sideline, creating some gaps in the middle so we can power run with our lead block scheme up the middle,” Adamson said. “We just have a bunch of different things we can do. What’s most important, obviously in the trenches, and then blocking outside. If those wide receivers don’t hold their blocks, those outside sweeps don’t go as far as they did Week 1.”
The result was Cross with 186 rushing yards for the game, and Bull added 47 more, with a pair of touchdowns.
“I liked our offensive line play,” Rockets lineman Austin Cernich said. “They did a nice job, they opened good holes. Our backs were doing amazing. They were hitting the holes, getting upfield.”
The 11-play drive was not the only long one for Rock Falls, with a seven-play scoring drive executed mostly by the backups in the fourth quarter, and drives of six and five plays in the first half.
“We can have big plays with Booker and [Dillon] Schueler, and Baraka [Boards] on the outside, but realistically our bread and butter is to spread you out and still have that power run game up the middle,” Adamson said. “If you can get into the defense’s mind that they can’t stop you five yards here, six yards there, you can bend them to your will at that point.”