DeKALB – The vanquished always seem to express the same sentiments after being on the wrong side of Wilmington’s double-wing offense.
“They do a great job of it. It’s a very, very tough scheme to stop,” Nashville coach Steven Kozuszek said after his team lost, 24-7, to Wilmington in the Class 2A state championship game Friday at Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Stadium. “It seems simple. You know they are going to run it every down. Just stop it. It is a lot easier said then done.”
Wilmington’s offense looks almost simplistic to the casual observer. So much so that the rallying cry is always that they are running the same, or very similar plays, over and over and over again.
But it’s the nuances that most aren’t seeing. And those nuances, particularly in this Wilmington power set, have been absolutely mastered by this group of Wildcats.
“When you look at some of our plays, people think it’s the same play, which I totally get,” Wilmington coach Jeff Reents said. “But we’re making line calls. [Quarterback] Ryder [Meents] is making audible calls. It’s as simple as instead of trapping this lineman, we’re going to trap a different lineman. That’s the communication part of it that you have to have with your kids.”
Not only is there communication that must take place between the coaching staff and the players, but the players have to communicate with each other and execute changes on the fly, which is a huge factor in Wilmington’s ability to make everything appear seamless.
“I just think our kids truly believe that it’s going to work,” Reents said. “They think that the system is going to work, and they have seen it work before.
“Our goal is to give the game to our kids on the field. If they can take over the game a little bit, then they can come off the field and say, ‘This is how the tackle is playing me,’ and, ‘Hey, I can get that block,’ or ‘Hey, I can’t get that block.’ They can adjust on the run.”
And Wilmington, like many small schools, doesn’t have the luxury of doing unit breakdowns when the offense leaves the field. That’s because many of the same players go right back on the field to play defense.
“With a small school, sometimes we can’t do those things until halftime, this year’s team we can coach them on the run. I sometimes get 30 seconds at times with the offense. That’s it,” Reents said. “With this group, a smart group, the kids can make those adjustments on the fly, and we have total trust in them on the field.”
And when all the pistons are firing, Wilmington’s offense is a thing to behold. The Wildcats opened Friday’s game with what many might call a slog, an 11-play, 58-yard drive that ended in a 22-yard run from Jacob Friddle. To Reents and Wilmington, that drive was a masterpiece and gave them the kind of early momentum that was practically priceless.
That drive also showed that in Wilmington’s offense, it needs all 11 elements to be working toward the same goal. Friddle, who finished with 157 yards and two touchdowns while accounting for more than half of Wilmington’s offensive plays in the game, was quick to deflect praise to others for why the offense was in such a rhythm Friday.
“A big part of it is our line. When they started blocking real well, it just helps me and Colin James and [Karsen] Hansen over there,” Friddle said. “When they start putting people on their backs, everything goes better.”
And when coupled with a stellar effort from its defense, Wilmington had a complete mix for success in place. The offensive recipe, which Reents is quick to credit assistants Barry Southall and Chad Farrell for, is one Reents knows people don’t find flashy.
But beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
“People love to pass the football. I love it too, to see that, it looks beautiful,” Reents said. “But what looks even more beautiful to me is three linemen and a quarterback pulling in front of the running back, going and getting 5 or 6 yards, and we’re going to huddle and do it again.”